When you place your health under the care of a doctor or hospital, you want the assurance that you will receive the highest possible quality of care: that the staff will find the appropriate diagnosis to explain your symptoms, that you will receive the treatment you need, and that the doctor will not take actions that could make your symptoms worse.
Unfortunately, not every hospital or doctor will provide the high quality of care you expect. Even with the best efforts of the doctor, sometimes, medical malpractice occurs. Developing a better understanding of medical malpractice can help you decide if you experienced medical malpractice and if you should talk to an experienced attorney.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a physician or hospital deviates from the standard of care that patients should expect from any treatment provider. Nationwide, America has a high standard of medical care for all its patients. When a doctor’s actions deviate from that standard of care and cause damages to the patient, that patient may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
Generally, if a doctor acts negligently in the care of a patient, causing injury or suffering to that patient, the patient has grounds for a claim. A negative outcome–for example, a treatment that does not have the anticipated result, an allergic reaction, or the death of a patient–does not automatically indicate medical malpractice.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs in several different forms, including:
Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
Presented with the patient’s symptoms, the doctor fails to properly identify what caused those symptoms and seek the treatment the patient needs. In the case of misdiagnosis, the doctor might insist that the patient has an entirely different condition from the one they really have. Often, this means that the patient does not receive treatment for the condition he actually has, which can cause symptoms to worsen substantially before the patient receives treatment. Thanks to misdiagnosis, patients may receive treatment, including harmful treatment, for a condition they do not have. In the case of delayed diagnosis, the doctor may fail to identify the problem with the patient for a longer period of time than it should have taken to make the diagnosis. Delayed diagnosis may also lead to a longer wait before treating the symptoms of the condition, which can cause the condition to worsen.
To qualify as misdiagnosis, another physician, presented with the same symptoms, must reasonably have the ability to diagnose the patient properly. If the patient fails to share all of her symptoms with the doctor, has a condition that makes diagnosis difficult, or has a rare, unknown condition, the doctor may not bear responsibility for an inability to diagnose the patient.
During childbirth, mom and baby need a high quality of care to ensure the health of both infant and parent. Unfortunately, medical complications often arise fast during childbirth. Birth injuries, including preventable injury to either mother or child, can leave the parents devastated during what should have represented a joyful time for the family. Birth injuries may include injuries to the baby during delivery, failure to take appropriate interventions that caused illness or injury in the baby, or damage to the mother during childbirth.
Unfortunately, surgical errors often have devastating consequences. Many surgical errors receive the title never events because they should never happen to a patient in the hospital. Unfortunately, surgical errors do happen, including:
- Surgeons performing the wrong surgery on the patient
- Surgeons performing the surgery on the wrong body part
- Items left behind in the patient’s body after the surgery
- Inaccurately administering anesthesia
- Damaging organs and tissues unrelated to the surgery
- Introducing bacteria into the sterile environment, often by using improperly sterilized tools
- Failing to provide adequate care for the patient after surgery, leading to complications or infection
Failure to Treat Medical Conditions or Injuries
Often, a doctor may properly diagnose a patient, but fail to provide the treatment the patient needs to make a full recovery or retain quality of life in spite of the diagnosis. While the patient has the right to refuse treatment, the doctor should always provide patients with the option to receive treatments available for their injuries or illnesses. Doctors who attempt to “wait it out” or fail to provide the treatment patients need can face medical malpractice claims.
Failure to Properly Inform the Patient
Every patient has the right to make medical decisions for himself or herself. Before pushing a patient into a procedure, the physician must establish that the patient understands what the procedure will entail and any side effects anticipated. Failure to inform a patient of a little-known side effect does not immediately indicate medical malpractice. Failure to warn a patient about a known side effect or failure to receive consent before proceeding with a non-emergency procedure, however, can leave the doctor liable.
Medical Device Errors
Many doctors and nurses use materials every day that should help in the care and treatment of their patients. Unfortunately, sometimes, those medical devices malfunction. The devices might not have undergone adequate sterilization measures, or they might break or tear, causing further damage to the patient.
When It’s Not Medical Malpractice
Most of the time, medical malpractice relies on negligence or recklessness on the part of the medical practitioner. Sometimes, a patient has a negative outcome regardless of what the doctor can do. This might include:
- Unexpected worsening of the condition. Sometimes, in spite of the doctor’s best efforts, the patient’s condition simply continues to decline.
- The doctor can do nothing to treat the patient. In some cases, the patient’s symptoms may resist treatment, or the condition may have no known treatment.
- The doctor performs an emergency, lifesaving procedure without the patient’s consent.
If you suffered injuries at the hands of a medical professional, you may need an attorney to help you decide if you have a medical malpractice case. A medical malpractice lawyer can help you discuss your case and learn more about your rights after medical recklessness or negligence.