Medical negligence is a scenario in which a doctor, nurse, surgeon or any other medical professional causes injury to a patient by their action, failure to act, or by deviating from standards, or a duty of care expected of them.
A good example of medical negligence may be a case where a surgeon forgets a surgical apparatus within an operated patient or adopts a wrong procedure that worsens the situation, and possibly results in further unnecessary treatment.
Patients have the right to file a legal action against healthcare providers whose careless actions or mistakes during treatment worsened their condition and/or resulted in extra costs. This is referred to as a medical negligence claim. In order to have a good claim, the errors must be proven.
This article looks to explain medical negligence in detail, as well as reveal how it can be proven.
Types of Medical Negligence
There are six very common types of medical negligence. Patients who any of these apply to should consult a medical malpractice-specialist law firm to find out if one occurred. They include:
- Delayed diagnosis;
- Wrong diagnosis;
- Surgical errors;
- Birth injury;
- Prescription errors;
- Failure to administer treatment.
A case may be regarded as ‘delayed diagnosis’ in a scenario where the doctor carries out a diagnosis poorly or pays little attention to test results, thus leading to the late discovery of the actual medical condition of the patient.
In this type of negligence, the medical practitioner makes a correct diagnosis, but only after the wrong diagnosis has been made. The delay in issuing the right treatment gives room for the worsening of the patient’s health condition.
This type of diagnosis is similar to delayed diagnosis. However, the wrong diagnosis is a scenario in which the doctor diagnosis the patient with a disease he/she does not really have, or incorrectly jump to the conclusion that the patient has no discernable illness.
It is worthy of note that not all cases of misdiagnosis are considered medical negligence. Those considered are only cases in which the doctor fails to follow standard practices or do what other doctors would have done to help the situation.
A surgical error is a scenario in which the doctor makes mistakes during surgery that could endanger the life of the patient.
Some examples of surgical errors include:
- The use of non-sterile medical instruments;
- Forgetting medical instruments and other objects inside a patient;
- Carrying out unnecessary surgery;
- Causing damage to nerves, organs, or tissues.
Contrary to popular misconception, in certain circumstances where the patient may have signed a consent form agreeing to proceed with a surgical procedure irrespective of the risks of complications or death, the patient can still sue the doctor.
The birth process can be very distressing for the baby, and even worse if the delivery process is not well handled by the nurses and doctors. Medical malpractice can occur during delivery in different ways such as incorrect diagnosis of the newborn’s medical condition, improper handling of complications, carelessness during C-section. For example, a doctor cutting too deep during the procedure that the baby gets cut.
Negligence during childbirth can result in serious lifelong complications that can cost so much.
Prescriptions errors can be very dangerous and life-threatening, and they are prevalent. A study based on prescription errors in about 900 children in the United States revealed that 30% of the errors took place during prescription, 25% during dispensing, and 40% during administration.
That said, prescription errors can be classified into two different types. They include:
Wrong dosage/incorrect prescription
Taking the wrong medication even when prescribed by a doctor can worsen a patient’s health condition. The same thing applies when the healthcare provider prescribes the wrong dose.
Sometimes, the error may not come from the doctor, but from the pharmacist who may misinterpret the doctor’s prescription. In cases like this, the pharmacist is held responsible for the resulting injury.
Administration errors/drug combination
Sometimes, patients may find prescribed drugs ineffective, or discomfort as a result of severe side effects, even when the doctor made the right prescription. This often results from something called an interaction. An interaction may be caused when certain drugs that do not go well together are taken concomitantly, or when a drug meant to be avoided in the presence of a certain medical condition is taken.
In a situation where a patient sustains an injury or deteriorates in health (when it could have been avoided,) the doctor can be held liable. This is because it is the doctor’s duty to check the medical history of the patient to find details such as drugs he/she is allergic to, what other medications the patient is taking and how they may with prescribable drugs, as well as underlying medical conditions.
Damages for the Negligence
If a doctor neglects standard practices, and as a result, a patient gets injured, the doctor will be held liable. This will leave the patient entitled to a sum of damages. The sum of damages is an amount of money a doctor is required by law to pay a patient who his/her negligence caused injury. The sum is to compensate the patient for costs he/she might have incurred as a result of remedying the situation.
For damages to be paid negligence must be proven. For instance, if a patient undertakes a C-section, and suffers a self-inflicted injury down the line that causes the stitches to lose, it may not be regarded as a case of negligence. On the one hand, if the stitches come off without any influence as a result of the surgeon’s incompetence or negligence then the doctor may need to compensate the patient.
Who may be liable?
While some people believe that only doctors are, or can be victims of medical negligence, the reverse is the case. Several other healthcare practitioners are covered as well. Practitioners like:
Besides those listed here, other medical specialists entrusted with the health and welfare of patients may be victims too.
Duty of Care
The primary assignment of every medical professional is to avoid acting in ways that can hurt a patient, or worsen his/her medical condition. This is referred to as the professional’s duty of care.
In the event of a medical negligence claim, one of the very first factors that will be considered is whether the doctor failed in his duty of care. Usually, to find out, a third party practitioner of the same medical field as the accused is given clearance to asses the issue.
If he discovers that the doctor in question failed in executing his/her duties in accordance with established standards or delayed in administring care, it becomes a big step towards establishing that it is a case of negligence indeed.
Where it is concluded that it is a case of medical malpractice, the patient will require the help of a solicitor to help achieve a sum of damages.
What can be Covered?
Depending on the level of harm or injury inflicted on the
patient as a result of medical negligence, different compensation plans may be
For instance, if in a case, the patient suffers a severe injury that may prevent him/her from working and receiving income, the accused doctor may required to cover future costs of the patients beyond that for remedying the situation. On the other hand, if the patient sustains minor injuries, he/she may be compensated commensurately.
However, most doctors, as well as other medical practitioners, obtain indemnity insurance to protect them against this aspect of the law. This means that in the event of a negligence claim against an insured healthcare provider, the patient will be batteling the professional’s insurer. In such a scenario, it is always best for the patient to consult a good lawyer.
It is true that compensation can never fill in the gap that may result from the effects of medical negligence. However, running out of cash or getting into unnecessary debt on this account will not help matters. On the flip side, getting compensated may provide some sort of relief for what would have been a helpless situation. If you or a loved one happens to suffer from the medical malpractice of a doctor, try to get in touch with an expert law firm to help you asses the level of damage caused, and what can be achieved. The earlier the better, always!