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INSIGHTS: Medico-legal issues for radiographers

February 4, 2014


BreastScreen radiographers, as health professionals, owe a number of legal and ethical obligations to all women who attend for screening mammograms. These obligations stem from statute, the common law and ethical and professional guidelines. It is important for radiographers to be aware of these obligations, to ensure their services are provided professionally, and the rights of women who attend BreastScreen are respected. This helps to maintain the integrity of BreastScreen and radiographers and BreastScreen are less likely to be subject to legal or disciplinary action.

Professional obligations and the duty of care

As health professionals, BreastScreen radiographers owe a duty of care to women who attend for screening (Wrongs Act 1958 Vic, ss 57 and 58). This means that radiographers are required to ‘exercise reasonable care and skill in the provision of professional advice and treatment (Wallace v Kam [2013] HCA 19, 8 May 2013) and have a ‘duty to make the care of patients their first concern and to practise safely and effectively’ (Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia, Code of Conduct, 7 May 2012, [1.2]).

The courts have described the duty of care owed by health professionals as a ‘single comprehensive duty’ (Wallace v Kam [2013] HCA 19, 8 May 2013, [8]) extending from the initial consultation with patients, to the performance of actual screening procedures and even the protection of patients’ confidential information after screening. Radiographers’ failure to exercise reasonable care and skill can potentially lead to them being subject to disciplinary action, or even sued for medical negligence.

The Medical Radiation Practice Board Code of Conduct outlines a number of practical steps radiographers should take to ensure they are exercising their duty of care. To read the full article, please download the PDF below.


  • The personal and health information that a woman provides can only be used for the purpose of her screening mammography. This means that it is not okay to discuss with a woman her date of birth or the fact that she is on Hormone Replacement Therapy, unless it is relevant to the screening.
  • Unless a patient indicates otherwise, it is okay to forward mammogram results to the general practitioner nominated on her consent form. However, if another, such as a psychiatrist, requests information about a patient, then information cannot be released to them without the patient’s permission, even if they are treating the patient.
  • Personal and health information should not be accessed except for the purpose for which it was collected. This means that it is not okay to access the BreastScreen records to examine a relative or friend’s information. They are entitled to privacy just like everybody else.
  • If a friend or relative attends BreastScreen and asks you to ‘keep them updated’ with the results of their screen, it is not okay to do so unless it is actually part of your role. It is inappropriate to let them know that a screen ‘was all clear, the letter went off today’, as this is an improper use of health information, and unprofessional.
  • You should not discuss people who have attended BreastScreen with colleagues or other people, except as part of your work. Conversations concerning ‘guess who came in today’ should be avoided, and the women who attend respected.

Contact Kellie Dell’Oro for more information.

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