Errors in diagnostic radiology

Last revised by Andrew Murphy on 16 Sep 2021

Errors in diagnostic radiology occur for a variety of reasons related to human error, technical factors and system faults. It is important to recognize that various cognitive biases contribute to these errors.


Renfrew classification

This classification was proposed by Renfrew et al. 5 in 1992, revised by Kim and Mansfield in 2014, and at the time of writing (September 2021) remains the most widely accepted classification 5-8.

Renfrew et al. proposed the following classification system 1,2,4:

  • type 1: complacency
    • finding identified but attributed to wrong cause
  • type 2: faulty reasoning
    • finding identified as abnormal but attributed to wrong cause
  • type 3: lack of knowledge
    • finding identified but attributed to wrong cause due to lack of knowledge
  • type 4: under-reading
    • missed abnormality that was appreciable in retrospect
  • type 5: poor communication
    • finding identified as abnormal but poor communication to relevant clinician
  • type 6: technique
    • abnormality was not identifiable (even in retrospect) secondary to poor technique
  • type 7: prior examination
    • failure to review previous imaging results in missed finding
  • type 8: history
    • finding missed due to incomplete clinical information
  • type 9: location
    • finding missed because it was outside of region of interest
  • type 10: satisfaction of search
    • failure to find a subsequent abnormality after the initial abnormality was detected
  • type 11: complication
    • most often of interventional procedures
  • type 12: satisfaction of report
    • over-reliance on the prior report
Brook classification

Brook et al. proposed the following classification as an alternative to the Renfrew classification which takes more than human error into account 3:

  • latent errors
    • 'in-built' system or technical faults that predispose to errors
  • active failures or human error
    • diagnostic errors and misinterpretation
    • complications from procedures
    • can involve more than one person or be secondary to latent errors
  • external causes
    • beyond the control of the radiologist (e.g. power failures, quenches, etc.)
  • customer causes
    • related to the patient and non-radiology staff (e.g. complying with instructions, unfamiliarity with procedure)

See also

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