On May 20, 2020, the Virginia Board of Medicine summarily suspended the medical license of Michael John Bigg, M.D. Dr. Bigg, a radiologist, operated the Allison Breast Center in Richmond, VA. The Board’s order is shocking. It is based on multiple individual complaints. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of other women who have had similar experiences.
Mammograms are screening tests. They are done to detect cancer at an early stage so that the patient has better survival time and/or can have an easier course of treatment. The radiologist who performs the mammograms reports the results of the study to the patient’s gynecologist or other primary care doctor. Those doctors rely on the findings of the radiologists to whom they refer their patients. The patients rely on this information. If a patient is told her mammogram is normal, she is naturally relieved and can go on about her business. If the report is wrong – a potential cancer is not reported – the patient is not only in danger, neither she nor her doctor are aware of that danger.
Medical malpractice cases based on a failure to diagnose cancer are especially tricky ones. The patient first must prove that there was a failure to diagnose the cancer. In cases involving mammograms, this would involve seeing if the studies showed something that should have been reported but was not. That is a simple process. You get a radiologist to review the studies to determine if something was missed. By itself, however, a misreading of a mammogram is not enough to make a case against a radiologist. A patient also has to show that the delay in diagnosis changed her prognosis or how the disease would be treated. While it is widely accepted that it is always better to diagnose cancer earlier, medically it is often not easy to prove with the requisite degree of certainty that the delay changed the probable outcome for the patient. One needs to have an oncologist and/or cancer surgeon review the case. The medicine gets very complex at times.
Generally speaking, malpractice cases are difficult. If a lawyer does not regularly handle them, then he or she should refer the case to someone who does. Malpractice cases relating to cancer are usually very hard cases. I have more than 30 years of experience handling cancer cases, both as a defense lawyer and representing patients. Our team knows what to look for and what to do. We are happy to look at these cases either directly from the patient or as referrals from other lawyers. Experience matters. It matters a lot.