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Causes of Medical Malpractice

Causes of medical malpractice generally involve negligence or carelessness on the part of medical professionals and other employees of the facility they practice in. However, medical malpractice may also results from a failure to take appropriate actions or follow established medical procedures fully. The following are some of the most common causes of medical malpractice seen in healthcare facilities today.

Misdiagnosis and Failure to Diagnose

Among the most common cause of medical malpractice is the misdiagnosis of conditions. Sometimes medical misdiagnosis occurs due to the rarity of a patient's condition, though it is most often the result of factors which are under the doctor's control.

Failure to diagnose occurs when doctors do not take all appropriate steps to diagnose a condition correctly. Examples of doctor failure to diagnose include skipping expensive diagnostic tests or overlooking test result data.

Surgical and Anesthesia Errors

Common anesthesia mistakes can involve:

  • Dosage error
  • Delayed anesthesia delivery
  • Failure to monitor the patient
  • Hazardously prolonged sedation
  • Failure to recognize and respond to anesthesia complications
  • Failure to properly inform a patient of instructions for before, during or after the procedure
  • Faulty equipment
  • Shutting off the pulse oximeter alarm
  • Failure to intubate

Surgical errors can take many forms, including wrong site surgery. However, most of these surgical errors can be avoided easily by doctors who initiate clear communication and follow established procedures, including initializing the surgery site beforehand. Other common surgical complications include acute respiratory failure, post-operative infections, blood clots, metabolic problems, poor nursing care, or wound reopening.


Every year, health care-associated infections (HAIs) strike nearly 2 million patients, result in an estimated 99,000 deaths, and cost our health care system up to $20 billion. Research indicates infections are the most serious complication of hospital care, and the most common infection type is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in every 20 hospitalized patients will contract an HAI.

Medication Errors

Incorrect medication administration, dosage, and combinations are all common medication errors which can result in patient harm and qualify as medical malpractice. In addition, patients may be accidentally administered medications they are allergic to, or receive incorrect medications from a pharmacy.

Healthcare Worker Fatigue

Strong evidence shows that healthcare workers who are fatigued are more likely to make medical errors. Because workers in the healthcare field often work extended shifts, facilities that do not ensure against sleep deprivation in their employees may be contributing to the risk of medical malpractice. In fact, a 2003 study found that medical interns who work shifts in excess of 80 hours had a 61 percent increase in needlestick injuries.


" 10 Patient Safety Tips for Hospitals." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Revised December 2009. Web. 25 May 2012. 

 "20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors." Patient Fact Sheet." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, September 2011. Web. 25 May 2012.

 "Advancing Patient Safety: A Decade of Evidence, Design, and Implementation." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, November 2009. Web. 25 May 2012.

 "Healthcare-associated Infections (HAIs): The Burden." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Revised 13 December 2010. Web. 25 May 2012.

 "New AHRQ Study Finds Surgical Errors Cost Nearly $1.5 Billion Annually." Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 28 July 2008. Web. 25 May 2012.

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