Healthcare professionals take an oath to practice their profession responsibly. It is, therefore, surprising to see that about 50% of the physicians—aged 55 and above—and 8% of the doctors—younger than 40—have been sued for malpractice.
The fact that malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the US and 25,000 to 120,000 Americans die every year due to medical negligence decreases the public’s confidence in the healthcare sector. Patients, after all, trust these professionals with their health and treatment.
What is Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence is defined as when a healthcare worker fails or neglects to provide the correct prescription, diagnosis, treatment or aftercare, which might result in compromising the health of the patient and even lead to their death.
It doesn’t matter whether the medical personnel chose the wrong course of action for their patients unintentionally, they are still accountable.
This accountability will not only serve as justice for the patients who have been wronged, but also set a cautionary example for the other professionals who would want to steer clear of malpractice.
Lawsuits are common in such cases because medical errors committed are preventable.
Common Medical Negligence Claims
Let’s take a look at the most common medical negligence claims that can ultimately lead to a lawsuit:
Gynecological and Childbirth injuries
Gynecology is a branch of medicine that focuses on female reproductive health and provides special care during pregnancy. This includes prenatal, labor, and postnatal care.
The gynecologist performs ultrasounds as well as other necessary tests to determine the health of both the fetus and the mother.
Sadly, about 20% of the medical claims are filed against OB/GYN’s. The common birth injuries include: wrong method of birth, failure to control excessive bleeding during labor, improper/unhygienic use of the surgical equipment during delivery, etc.
The patients suffering from medical misconduct are, therefore, likely to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit may provide them with a birth injury compensation that can then be used to pursue further treatment to restore the baby’s and the mother’s health that was compromised due to the doctor’s or the medical staff’s negligence.
Late diagnosis or misdiagnosis is the top reason for the filing of lawsuits against doctors and physicians. These errors include doctors’ inability to or wrong diagnosis of patients’ symptoms, misreading lab reports, as well as not taking the patient’s medical history into consideration before coming up with a treatment plan.
Misdiagnosis can unnecessarily put patients under treatments not required in the first place and can most likely cause the patient to experience side effects from the application of the wrong treatment.
Late diagnosis cause patients to miss their treatments that could have started earlier and which might have prevented patient’s health from further deterioration.
Misdiagnosis is common in cancer cases; early diagnosis can be followed with chemotherapy, but if the cancer is detected at a later stage, then surgery becomes unavoidable.
Medical and Surgical Errors
Medical errors commonly imply the medical professionals prescribing a wrong medicine, incorrect dosage, or a drug combination that can prove to be harmful for the patient.
Surgical errors, on the other hand, involve mistakes made during a surgery. These errors include: giving excessive dosages of anesthesia before surgery, failing to monitor the patient’s vitals during the operation, damaging an organ, or using unsterilized surgical equipment that can result in infections post-op.
Failure to obtain consent
It is a physician’s responsibility to thoroughly evaluate a patient’s condition and present them with all the possible treatment options. The patient should be informed of the symptoms, and provided with all the necessary information – including risks and benefits – inherent to the treatment plan, in order for them to make an informed decision.
Unfortunately, consent is often done away with. Doctors decide on the best course of action without taking the patient’s consent into consideration, which results in patient claims against doctors on grounds of lack of patient consent in the treatment plan pursued by the doctor.
Essential elements of a medical negligence claim
A plaintiff, in a medical error claim, is either the patient or counsel representing the patient to pursue the case. The defendant is the healthcare worker being sued by the plaintiff.
Both parties can settle out of court, but if they are unable to reach an agreement then the matter is referred to the court. The plaintiff needs evidence to prove the defendant’s medical negligence, while the defendant needs to prove their innocence in the matter and that they acted in accordance with professional ethics.
Based on the verdict, the plaintiff might be entitled to compensatory damages: these include both monetary as well as non-monetary benefits; punitive damages; and punishments awarded to the healthcare worker for their medical misconduct. This punishment may include imprisonment, revocation of medical license, or suspension from healthcare services.
Affording quality health care is already shaping up to be a challenge for many, given the rapidly increasing prices of medical services. Patients expect their doctors to provide them with the best possible care, and doctors, too, need to stay true to their Hippocratic oath—of treating their patients to the best of their abilities. Complications arise, but medical malpractice, being responsible for about 700 deaths per day in the US, makes one question the healthcare industry’s integrity in providing care. Additionally, the damages caused by medical negligence are followed by lawsuits that can physically, financially, and emotionally drain both sides.