Mammogram Immunity

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would protect radiologists from lawsuits if they fail to read a cancerous tumor in a mammogram, but opponents argue women should have that right.

Mammograms can detect nine out of every 10 breast cancers in women who don't have any symptoms, but sometimes radiologists can miss a tumor. Dr. Robert Entel says lawsuits over misread mammograms are driving radiologists out of Florida, which he says means longer waits for those trying to get a mammogram.

“I'm very concerned about women in Florida, that they won't get their mammograms in time, that they'll be delaying diagnosis, the tumors will grow. It will be a more invasive and costly treatment and the mortality of these women will go up,” says Dr. Entel.

Dr. Entel is pushing for a bill that would make radiologists immune from lawsuits if they misread a mammogram except in cases of gross negligence. Attorneys representing victims say that's ridiculous.

Betsey Herd, Florida trial lawyers, says, “It almost allows a radiologist to read it blindfolded. Why not? It doesn't matter what the outcome is. He can do no wrong. Why should I have one done in Florida?”

Florida trial lawyers point to medical malpractice statistics that show the number of lawsuits for misread mammograms has actually dropped over the past several years from 73 in 1996 to less than three dozen in 2001, but bill sponsor Rep. Carole Green says a facility in her own district is threatening to stop doing mammograms, and something has to be done.

Rep. Carol Green (R) Fort Myers, says, “I'm a breast cancer survivor. Consequently I feel very strongly about the fact that women need to have access to mammograms.”

The American Cancer Society agrees. The agency is supporting the bill. A new federal study found that longer wait times for mammograms may actually be caused by higher demand rather than fewer radiologists.

Bill supporters say the study is flawed.