The term “medical malpractice” is a type of negligence that sometimes occurs within the healthcare industry. If a doctor, nurse, or any other healthcare provider provides a treatment that hurts the patient or leads to avoidable injury, illness, or death, that occurrence would be classified as medical malpractice or medical negligence. Also, if a healthcare professional fails to treat a patient to the best of his or her ability, that failure could also be classified as malpractice.
Given the range of different jobs and responsibilities in the healthcare field, medical malpractice can take quite a few forms. These forms could be anything from inaccurate diagnoses to improper dosage to questionable treatment methods to lack of action. The wide variety of occurrences that are labeled as “malpractice” can make the concept somewhat difficult to understand. However, in the simplest of terms, medical malpractice is when a doctor (or some other healthcare professional) makes a mistake that results in grave consequences for the patient.
How the Concept of Medical Negligence Impacts the Healthcare Industry
In the United States, medical malpractice affects the healthcare industry in a variety of ways. For one thing, all medical providers are required to have malpractice insurance to accept patients. The laws for medical malpractice and liability insurance vary slightly from state to state. Hospitals, healthcare collectives, or doctors working in private practice must be sure to familiarize themselves with the requirements of their state law. These laws are summarized in detail on the website for the NCLS (National Conference of State Legislatures).
Even if it weren’t a requirement, medical malpractice insurance would be vital for practitioners working in the healthcare field. Medical malpractice lawsuits are relatively common in the United States—to the point where some might argue that lawsuits are single-handedly pushing up the costs of medical care. However, there are also arguments to be made that, while malpractice lawsuits are common, they are only common because medical negligence does happen. Said another way, while medical malpractice lawsuits could very well be behind rising fees in the healthcare field, actual medical negligence is just as much to blame as frivolous lawsuits.
For instance, according to a report from Medical News Today, researchers from Johns Hopkins University did a study in 2013 that looked at diagnosis errors. The researchers concluded that diagnosis errors cause between 80,000 and 160,000 deaths each year in the United States. Diagnosis errors, of course, are just one type of medical malpractice, meaning that the problem of negligence in healthcare is much bigger overall.
Proving Medical Negligence in Court
It’s also worth noting that proving medical negligence in court is not particularly easy. Typically, the process of proving medical negligence involves four legal elements. First, the patient (or the patient’s family) must prove that the physician had a duty to serve the patient. Usually, this element is the easiest to prove, as there are sufficient records to indicate that a practitioner was assigned to work on the patient’s case.
Secondly, the patient (or the patient’s family) must prove that the physician in question breached his or her professional duty. This part of the case is where the plaintiff must demonstrate that the practitioner made an error in diagnosis, dosage, treatment, or care of the patient. This point goes along with the third legal element (where the plaintiffs must prove that the doctor’s breach of duty caused injury) and the fourth (where the plaintiffs must prove damages).
31% of all medical malpractice claims are cases where the patient in question died, while many more revolve around severe and permanent injuries that will forever impact the patient’s way of life. Minor injuries or temporary injuries constitute less than 20% of malpractice lawsuits, as it is harder to prove breach of duty, injury, and especially damages. Damages can include anything from lost wages to medical costs to pain and suffering.
Knowing the basics of medical malpractice and medical negligence is valuable for everyone. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you believe either you or a loved one has been the victim of malpractice, you can use the information above to determine whether or not you have grounds for a lawsuit. If you aren’t sure whether or not you can prove the four legal elements required for a successful malpractice case, you can, of course, consult further with a medical negligence attorney.
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