What Is Medical Malpractice, and What Are the Warning Signs?

Something you have no control over is one of the most significant factors that could kill you. More than 250,000 people die every year in the United States due to medical errors, reports the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). Those who are injured by medical errors may be as much as four times as high.

The Washington Post reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require the reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths that may have been preventable. This means patients will never know the full risk they face when getting treatment from a certain provider or healthcare institution.

When medical errors are pursued in a legal sense, they enter the medical malpractice realm. Medical malpractice is a legal term that designates a claim resulting in errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management. Medical malpractice results in serious injuries or death, and it is caused by negligence on behalf of the healthcare provider.

To constitute medical malpractice, the National Institutes of Health says the “four D’s” must be present: duty, dereliction, damages and direct cause. Here is what to be aware of in regards to medical malpractice and how to protect yourself or help a loved one who may be a victim.

Common Types of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can occur in any medical environment, from hospitals to the dentist’s office. Some of the most frequent types of medical malpractice include:

  • Anaesthesia mistakes, which may be a result of using improper equipment, not viewing a patient’s medical history or failure to monitor vital signs
  • Surgical errors, including nerve damage, operating on the wrong body part or patient, organ puncturing or uncontrolled bleeding
  • Misdiagnosis, which results in taking incorrect medication, the worsening of a condition or incorrect treatment
  • Medication errors, including giving a patient the wrong medication, providing improper directions, giving a patient the incorrect dosage or failing to alert a patient to potential complications
  • Improper testing, which results in the wrong diagnosis or treatment

Medical malpractice may happen during one significant medical treatment, such as a surgery, or it may happen during several incidents over time. Patients should always get additional physician opinions if they are ever uncomfortable with diagnosis or treatment.

Medical Malpractice Warning Signs

While some consequences of medical malpractice may be instantly recognizable, others happen gradually over time. Here are some medical malpractice warning signs to be aware of:

  • The condition does not improve or worsens
  • The physician is unwilling to answer questions, is unresponsive or refers a patient to another doctor or specialist without warning
  • An illness or treatment does not receive proper follow-up care

Much of one’s healthcare responsibilities lie on the patient. It is the patient’s responsibility to:

  • Fully convey healthcare history and be honest in all communication with a physician
  • Throughout treatment, take all prescribed medications and follow discharge instructions
  • Do not interfere with healthcare treatments by not properly following directions or using other methods that may negatively affect treatment

Sometimes illnesses and injuries fail to respond to proper treatment, which does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice. Also, side effects and complications that arise due to medical conditions or treatments may not fall under medical malpractice, as well. Negligence must the cause of a serious injury or death in medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one does suspect medical malpractice may be to blame for severe injuries or death, it is important to get professional help from an attorney as soon as possible. The statute of limitations in each state dictates how long a victim has before they can file a medical malpractice claim. A consultation with an attorney can help to give insight into whether or not a case is due to medical malpractice.

What Is Causing the Prevalence of Medical Errors?

Kenneth Sands, director of health-care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, tells The Washington Post that one of the leading factors that may be to blame for the significant numbers of medical errors is the acceptance of variability in the medical industry. The lack of standardized practices in healthcare increases the possibility of errors. The lack of measurement and investigation into medical errors prevents the ability to identify patterns and prevent them in the future.

One way to shed more light on the issue is to pursue medical malpractice in court when negligence is suspected. Because of the amount of evidence that is needed to prove the negligence of a physician in such a case, working with an attorney can help, advises Scottsdale personal injury lawyer Matt Millea.

Patients should also take a proactive role in their health. Ask as many questions as you want so that you feel completely comfortable with treatment. Enlist the help of a health advocate who can accompany you to appointments and treatments if you want. Don’t be afraid to say no to a treatment you aren’t comfortable with before getting a second opinion. Physicians are humans who may commit errors or be negligent during your care or that of a loved one. Health is never something to leave up to chance.




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