Medical malpractice happens when a medical provider fails to observe the guidelines of specialized care, resulting in a patient’s injury or death. This can mean the health care professional either failed to properly diagnose the patient or made a mistake during treatment. Adverse medical events can be traced back to sub-standard patient care, forms of medical negligence, or patient abandonment. These cases only become medical malpractice when the mistakes cause actual damage.
Medical Malpractice vs. Medical Negligence
While medical negligence and malpractice are similar, they are not the same. Medical malpractice is an active disregard for the necessary steps to providing accurate and ethical health assistance. Medical negligence is a breach of duty or a failure to comply with certain standards. Negligence is often associated with inattention on the health care provider’s part and can result from poor doctor-patient communication.
Failure to properly diagnose a patient is a dangerous mistake that can cause the patient additional pain and expenses. If a patient is
- Diagnosed incorrectly, the patient may be given treatment for a problem that does not exist. Medical action for conditions that the patient does not have is unsafe. Treatment can involve a concoction of drugs or surgical procedures, and it can make the patient sick in new ways. By causing fresh symptoms to emerge, inaccurate diagnoses further complicate the diagnostic process in correcting this mistake.
- Diagnosed too late, the patient’s condition may worsen or become untreatable. A broken bone may heal in an unreliable manner, and the patient could need surgery to recover proper range of motion. If cancer is not diagnosed early enough, it will be very hard to treat and may drastically alter the patient’s quality or length of life.
- Not diagnosed at all, the condition may result in death. Failure to diagnose and competently treat a patient will ensure that the patient does not heal. A medical provider should never give up on testing or treatment until the patient is healthy again.
Lack of Informed Consent
Perhaps the most critical step for a doctor to begin medical treatment is obtaining informed consent from the patient. The physician must discuss the patient’s diagnosis, various treatment options, and risks involved with either accepting or refusing treatments.
- Uninformed patients have a right to sue for medical malpractice. By not informing the patient of treatment, the patient was never given the opportunity to make his or her own decisions about medical action. Uninformed patients have also not heard all of the risks that may be involved with treatment, and they have not had the chance to bring up important health concerns.
- Treating a patient against his or her wishes is a reckless disregard for the patient’s rights. Patients retain the last say in their medical treatment. It is a patient’s choice what may, or may not, be done to the body.
- An exception is made in emergencies, since the patient may not be conscious or coherent. If a patient’s condition is life-threatening, and a medical professional can not obtain informed consent, law states that the provider may attempt to save the patient’s life. Medical malpractice typically can not apply to emergency situations.
A Growing Epidemic
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a report titled “To Err Is Human.” This report focused on American hospitals and the number of preventable medical errors per year. Since the report was published, the number of inaccurate diagnoses, adverse drug effects, surgical mistakes, and unnecessary infections has grown. The increase can partially be attributed to the surge of American citizens seeking medical assistance, combined with the lack of sleep experienced by many hospital professionals.
- A sum of 225,000 Americans die each year from all forms of medical malpractice put together.
- 98,000 people die in hospitals each year from preventable medical errors.
- 80,000 hospitalized patients develop central-line infections from errors during insertion of a catheter.
- 30,000 people die each year from central-line infections.
- 70% of adverse events that take place in American hospitals are preventable.
- Only 2% of all medical malpractice victims seek legal action.