What Patients Should Know About Medical Malpractice
Patients should be proactive with their healthcare choices, doing research and documenting health symptoms. They should keep a running list of questions to ask their healthcare providers and make sure they get the answers they deserve. While it’s important to trust medical providers who are more educated in their field, you should also make sure you understand what is going on with your own body. This is why it’s important to understand what patients should know about medical malpractice.
Having someone come with you to a medical appointment may help you feel more comfortable asking questions and understanding the answers given. In addition, as a patient you can also get a second, third, or even fourth opinion. Because medicine can be subjective, you may want to consult with several doctors to ensure your doctor treated you properly. If other medical professionals believe your doctor acted improperly, this can strengthen a potential medical malpractice case.
Why do people file medical malpractice lawsuits?
- A desire to prevent a similar (bad) incident from happening again
- A need for an explanation as to how and why an injury happened
- A desire for financial compensation to make up for actual losses, pain and suffering, or to provide future care for the injured patient
- A desire to hold doctors accountable for their actions
Why do legitimate medical malpractice claims not get filed?
Some patients are concerned that other doctors will learn of their cases and refuse to treat them. Some patients fear—incorrectly—that it will lead to an increase in the cost of their medical care. Many potential claimants avoid lawsuits because of the perceived personal and financial costs associated with litigation.
The Top Reasons for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Many physicians will be sued for medical malpractice. According to the American Medical Association, 61% of doctors will be named in a lawsuit by late in their careers. By age 54, 64% of physicians have experienced at least one malpractice suit over the course of their careers. After age 60, the percentage rises to about 80%. Obstetricians and gynecologists are the most likely to be sued, followed closely by general surgeons.
Doctors are sued for medical malpractice most commonly for:
- Failure to diagnose — 31%
- Patient suffered abnormal injury — 31%
- Failure to treat — 12%
Other reasons for medical malpractice lawsuits included errors in medication administration and failure to follow safety procedures.
Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose
One of the most common causes of medical malpractice lawsuits is misdiagnosis. This occurs when a doctor or other healthcare staff member diagnoses a condition that the patient is not actually suffering from.
Examples of medical malpractice by misdiagnosis include but are not limited to:
- Cancer: Any number of seemingly innocuous health problems can be an early indication of cancer. If a doctor doesn’t properly look into or follow up when you report certain symptoms and, as a result, misses a cancer diagnosis, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
- Heart Disease: Certain medical symptoms like an upset stomach, back pain, and/or difficulty breathing may indicate a heart attack.
- Stroke: Dizziness, confusion, and headaches can be blamed on anything, but increased danger and the potential for wrongful death arise when the source is a stroke.
When you seek professional medical care, you have a reasonable expectation that you will receive adequate treatment. The Journal of Patient Safety found that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients who go to the hospital for care each year suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.
How to Avoid Four Types of Medical Malpractice
Because medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death for adults in the United States, it’s crucial for patients to understand what types of medical malpractice can take place and how to avoid them. Under Pennsylvania law, medical malpractice occurs whenever a doctor or healthcare professional violates the standard of care for their profession or practice. The standard of care can vary based on a variety of factors including medical history and age.
Four Types of Medical Malpractice
- Misdiagnosis accounts for a large number of medical malpractice lawsuits. Misdiagnosis (or delayed diagnosis) can mean that an incorrect diagnosis was given to a patient, causing their condition to worsen. Misdiagnosis is more likely for rare conditions or conditions that have non-specific symptoms.
- Surgical errors are often referred to as “never events,” as in they are events that should never happen during an operation. This includes performing the wrong procedure, operating on the wrong part of the body, using an incorrect implant, or leaving a foreign object in the body.
- Medication errors are events that lead to a medication being used inappropriately. This can happen when a physician fails to obtain a thorough medical history, including understanding existing medical conditions and medications before prescribing new or additional medications. The physician is also responsible for relaying any risks associated with medications to the patient. While poor communication can often be at the root of a medication error, a physician prescribing the wrong medication or prescribing an incorrect dosage can also cause severe medical malpractice damages.
- Anesthesia errors include using the incorrect dosage of general or local anesthesia, failing to monitor a patient while under anesthesia, or administering anesthesia to a patient with known allergies. While some symptoms of anesthesia errors are minor, including blurred vision and fatigue, many are more severe and can cause heart damage, brain damage, strokes, or even death.
How Patient Knowledge Can Help Deter Medical Malpractice
While a patient’s care is ultimately a physician’s responsibility, there are several things patients can do to mitigate medical malpractice. First, it’s important that as a patient you receive all of the answers to any questions you have. This can help you know if a medical mistake does occur and can facilitate communication between you and your physician. Second, it’s always wise to seek a second opinion with non-emergency conditions. Lastly, patients should choose their healthcare providers carefully. Researching physicians and hospitals is a good first step toward ensuring you don’t choose the wrong kind of medical provider.
Top Ten Specialties with Medical Malpractice Claims
Doctors have a huge responsibility to patients to provide a certain level of care. While most doctors live up to this responsibility, others negligently endanger their patients. According to a The New England Journal of Medicine study, some physician specialties are more likely to produce errors and medical malpractice claims than others.
Doctors with these ten specialties had the most medical malpractice claims paid out to injured patients:
- Thoracic and/or Cardiovascular Surgery – Doctors operating in this specialty perform surgery on organs within the chest cavity. This includes many vital organs like the heart and lungs, so there is no room for error.
- Orthopedic Surgery – Orthopedic surgeons operate on the musculoskeletal system, which can include joint replacement surgeries, the treatment of spine diseases, or the treatment of sports injuries, among others.
- Neurosurgery – Neurosurgeons operate on the brain, and as the most complex organ in the body, any mistake could cause permanent damage or even death.
- Gynecology – Gynecologists treat conditions of the female reproductive system and breasts. Gynecologists rely on a variety of treatments other than and including surgery to help treat patients.
- Obstetrics – This specialty focuses on childbirth and care of pregnant women. While many gynecologists are also obstetricians, this specialty requires experience and skill because children are most vulnerable around the time of birth.
- Plastic Surgery – While many types of plastic surgery are performed every day, cosmetic surgery still comes with many risks.
- Urology – Urologists treat diseases in the urinary tract systems of both men and women. Additionally, urologists also treat male reproductive conditions.
- Oncology – Doctors who practice oncology treat patients with cancer. Because of the difficulties of treating cancer, oncologists need to uphold the highest standards of care to prevent patients from suffering unnecessary additional injuries.
- Anesthesiology – Doctors who specialize in anesthesiology focus on preoperative care and the administration of anesthesia that renders patients unconscious during surgery.
- Diagnostic Radiology – A diagnostic radiologist uses x-rays and other scans to help diagnose patients. Because this field relies on the interpretation of test results and scans, inexperienced practitioners can easily make careless mistakes.
Get Help with a Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Most medical professionals are capable individuals who work hard for the health of their patients. However, medical mistakes can have devastating consequences, and the victims are patients who have come to a doctor looking for help. While it’s important to understand what patients should know about medical malpractice, this area of law is complicated, and that is why you should speak with an experienced lawyer. If you or a loved one has been harmed by medical malpractice in Philadelphia, you are not alone. The lawyers at Lopez McHugh are experienced at analyzing the facts and determining liability in injury and death cases.