What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice, is generally defined as the negligent or incorrect performance of the professional duties of doctors, health care providers such as nurses and institutions including hospitals. It is a departure by a physician or hospital from accepted medical levels of care. In other words, the care is below what other doctors or hospitals would provide. The definition is also relative. The medical skill and knowledge expected of doctors will depend on the particular practice specialties they have and the geographic area or community where the doctor practices. In other words what may be medical malpractice in Boston may not be in Montana. However, certain standards exist throughout the United States.
Malpractice can happen in a number of ways. Emergency rooms have the highest percentage of negligence. The reasons for this are relatively obvious. Since many people with life-threatening conditions first arrive at Emergency Department, the staff often has significant time constraints, especially in a busy emergency room. If the symptoms are of a relatively infrequent condition or more often and atypical presentation of a common condition, a medical error can occur. The most frequent causes of errors are a mistaken diagnosis and delayed or lack of treatment. Sometimes, even if a correct diagnosis is made the physician doesn't follow a proper course of treatment.
Surgical errors are also common. Anesthesia reactions and problems cause many deaths and injuries each year. As well as failure to properly monitor a patient during and after surgery. Occasionally, sponges, clothes stained with blood (making them difficult to see) and surgical instruments are left in patients. These objects can cause infections and lesions and require painful and risky revision surgery to remove the objects.
Obstetrical malpractice can lead to serious injuries including infants born with cerebral palsy and Erb' Palsy.
In general, there are four conditions to be met for a valid claim of medical malpractice:
1) A provider-patient relationship existed;
2) Negligent care was rendered;
3) the patient suffered damage or harm;
4) and the damage or harm done to the patient was a direct result of the negligent care.
From a legal standpoint the last point is significant. Doctors make mistakes that are minor and although may represent an error or malpractice, do not give rise to a legal claim.
Ironically researchers in a seminal Harvard Study on medical malpractice noted that most people with potentially legitimate malpractice claims do not to file them, and that many claims actually filed had little or no basis. The researchers stated "the chances that a claim would be filed by a patient with an identifiable negligent injury is only one in fifty." and that "...not too many, but rather too few suits were brought for the negligent injuries inflicted on patients."
The dividing line between legitimate and illegitimate claims is not always clear, but the main difference is the medical results. If the error leads to death or catastrophic life-long incapacity or injury it is generally legally viable claim.
Unfortunately many patients are elderly and suffer from pre-existing life-threatening, multisystem diseases. Doctors efforts to treat patients in the final stages of advanced illness often carries high risk.
The most obvious malpractice claims include: misdiagnosed heart attacks, strokes (pulmonary embolism), meningitis, subarachnoid hemorrhage, breast cancer and difficult pregnancies.