As patients, we trust healthcare professionals to provide us with the highest quality care possible. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen, and sometimes those mistakes can lead to serious harm or injury. When this happens, it can be challenging to understand the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence and what steps you should take to protect your legal rights and seek compensation for your losses. About 15,000 to 18,000 cases of medical negligence or malpractice are filed every year, with nearly half of those cases involving more than one individual. In this article, we'll explore the key differences between medical malpractice and medical negligence, provide examples, and offer tips on what to do if you or a loved one has been affected by a medical error.
How is Medical Malpractice Different from Medical Negligence?
Legal terms such as medical malpractice and medical negligence describe situations where a patient is harmed or injured by a medical professional's actions. Although these two terms are frequently used synonymously, they are actually separate legal concepts with different meanings.
Medical malpractice is a form of negligence that happens when a healthcare provider doesn't uphold the professional standard of care, which causes harm or injury to a patient. To prove medical malpractice, the injured party must show that the healthcare practitioner had a duty to the patient to provide a specific degree of care, breached that duty by failing to provide the necessary care, and that the breach directly resulted in the patient's harm or injury. In addition, the plaintiff must demonstrate that they sustained losses like medical costs or lost wages as a result of the harm or injury.
Contrarily, medical negligence is a broader phrase that refers to any action or inaction on the part of a healthcare provider that falls short of the level of care that is typically expected in that profession and causes harm or injury to a patient. A healthcare provider may be negligent if they give a patient an incorrect diagnosis, therapy, or inadequate follow-up care. Nevertheless, not all instances of medical negligence constitute medical malpractice because there may not be a direct causal relationship between the healthcare provider’s actions and the patient's harm or injury.
Medical Negligence Example
A doctor could commit medical negligence by misdiagnosing a patient's disease despite the patient exhibiting apparent symptoms. Let's take the case of a patient who complains to their doctor about terrible headaches, nausea, and eyesight issues. Without performing any additional tests or referring the patient to a specialist, the doctor conducts a quick examination of the patient and prescribes painkillers.
Unbeknownst to the patient, a brain tumor that is growing and getting worse over time is the real cause of their symptoms. The tumor has developed to a size where it is far more difficult to treat by the time the patient receives a correct diagnosis from a different physician, causing substantial, long-term impairment to the patient's health.
Medical negligence would be committed in this scenario if the doctor did not conduct a comprehensive evaluation or refer to a specialist. The doctor didn't provide the desired level of care, which delayed the diagnosis and ultimately deteriorated the patient's condition. While this would not fall under the legal definition of medical malpractice in some jurisdictions, it is nevertheless an obvious case of medical negligence.
Example of Medical Malpractice
An example of medical malpractice would be a surgeon operating on the incorrect patient or area of the body. For instance, suppose a patient is going to have surgery to repair a ligament rupture in their right knee. The patient is taken into the operating room and given anesthesia, but the surgery is instead carried out on the patient's left knee as a result of a breakdown in communication between the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nursing personnel.
As a result of the unnecessary surgery, the patient has severe pain and problems, which require more medical care and recovery time. The surgeon clearly breached their responsibility and performed below the expected quality of care by failing to follow established standards and confirm the correct technique and patient before the operation.
This case would likely be considered medical malpractice since the patient suffered actual losses as a direct result of the surgeon's conduct. To recover compensation for their medical costs, lost wages, and other losses, the patient may be entitled to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice against the doctor and the hospital.
What is Duty of Care?
A legal notion known as "duty of care" refers to the responsibility that people or organizations have to act prudently and with reasonable care in order to prevent harm to others. It is a cornerstone of tort law, which deals with civil wrongs like carelessness and bodily harm. Duty of care, in the context of healthcare, refers to the obligation that healthcare practitioners have to give their patients a specific level of care and treatment. This includes making correct diagnoses, providing suitable treatments, and adhering to accepted medical practices and care standards.
The duty of care is established when a healthcare professional enters into a professional relationship with a patient. It continues throughout the course of the treatment until the patient is discharged or the relationship is terminated. Healthcare professionals have a duty to act in their patient’s best interests, to maintain confidentiality, and provide accurate and honest information about their medical condition and treatment options.
If a healthcare professional breaches their duty of care by failing to provide the expected level of care, and the breach causes harm or injury to the patient, the patient may be able to pursue legal action against the healthcare professional for medical malpractice or medical negligence.
What To Do if You Experience Medical Malpractice or Medical Negligence
If you or someone you know has experienced medical malpractice or negligence, there are several steps they can take to protect their health and their legal rights. This can include things like contacting an attorney who specializes in these types of cases, filing a formal complaint against the medical provider, and more. In this section, we’ll cover some of those steps to ensure you know how to build your case and get the outcome that you deserve.
Step 1: Seek Medical Attention from a Different Healthcare Provider
The first step is to seek immediate medical attention from a different healthcare provider to address any harm or injury caused by the medical error. Documenting any symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, and medications related to the incident is essential. You should also keep copies of medical records, bills, and other documentation related to their medical care.
Step 2: Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney
The next step is to contact a medical malpractice attorney who specializes in representing patients who have been harmed by medical errors. This specialized attorney can help evaluate the case and advise the patient on their legal options, including whether they may have a claim for medical malpractice or medical negligence. They will also help with gathering medical records, evidence, witnesses, and more.
Step 3: File a Complaint
Another avenue you can take is filing a complaint with the appropriate state medical board or licensing agency. This can help ensure that the healthcare professional is held accountable for their actions and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future. The specific process for filing a complaint may vary depending on the state or jurisdiction where the incident occurred. Contact the agency or board directly to learn about the complaint process.
Step 4: Gather and Provide Evidence
In some cases, you may be able to negotiate a settlement or reach a resolution with the healthcare professional or facility outside of court. However, if a legal claim is necessary, you should be prepared to provide evidence of the healthcare professional's breach of duty, the harm or injury caused by the breach, and the damages suffered as a result.
Resources for Victims of Medical Malpractice or Negligence
If you or someone you know has been the victim of medical malpractice, finding the resources to fight your case can be difficult. In this section, you will find helpful resources to aid you in your lawsuit!
Medical Review Foundation
The Medical Review Foundation can provide victims with counsel if necessary and offers reliable expert medical witnesses for cases of medical negligence. In order to help improve the American healthcare system, they have nearly four decades of experience representing both victims and doctors in malpractice lawsuits. They have helped with cases involving wrongful death, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, and personal injury. They have a group of medical experts who have provided consultation in more than 165,000 instances involving medical and hospital errors, wrongful deaths, nursing home negligence, and personal injuries since 1976. Go to their website, which is located here, to contact them.
National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association
The National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association (NMMAA), established in 2013, was started by a group of individuals who had either experienced medical malpractice themselves or knew someone who had. They assert that the NMMAA is the nation's first nonpartisan civil rights group of its sort, with patient advocates around the country. Through partnerships with local and national organizations all across America, their organization dedicates itself as a national network to ending medical malpractice. The NMMAA is the first and only organization that has earned multiple proclamations for its support of medical malpractice from states throughout the country. Learn more about their mission at their official site, located here.
Patient Advocacy Foundation
This national nonprofit organization provides free case management services and financial assistance to patients who have been diagnosed with a chronic, life-threatening, or debilitating illness, including those who have been affected by medical malpractice. PAF was founded in 1996 with the mission of helping patients navigate the healthcare system and obtain access to quality care, treatment, and support. The organization's core programs include patient services, co-pay relief, scholarships, and advocacy. Learn more about their mission and the services they offer to victims of negligence and malpractice by visiting their website, located here.
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