At some point in our lives, it is likely that we will have to place our trust in relative strangers for our well-being. Medical care workers are competent and well-educated, but even the most experienced and well-meaning of them are still human and can make mistakes. So, how can we best guard ourselves from negligence?
What is medical malpractice?
Medical malpractice can be defined as an occurrence in which a healthcare professional has failed to provide the recognized ‘standard of care’ when treating a patient. The ‘standard of care’ refers to the scope of care that any other reasonably prudent medical professional would provide under similar circumstances. Ultimately, it comes down to whether the healthcare professional has acted in any way negligent.
Examples of medical malpractice may include:
- Unnecessary surgery
- Failure to diagnose
- Surgical errors – including wrong-site surgery
- Misreading or ignoring laboratory test results
- Premature discharge or poor follow-up care
These are just some of the acts of negligence that can lead to injury or illness that may justify a lawsuit.
Who can be guilty of medical malpractice?
The common misconception with medical malpractice is that it only relates to surgeons and physicians, presumably because these are the cases that have held the most media attention. However, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be brought against any medical professional who provides care; anesthesiologists, dentists, nurses, radiologists, hospital personnel, to name a few – even pharmacists and lab technicians can be accused.
Is medical malpractice common?
Shockingly, the Journal of the American Medical Association has reported that medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of 200,000 – 400,000 people every year. In addition to this alarming statistic, up to 20 times that number are reported to suffer injuries as a direct result of a medical professional’s negligence.
How can you determine whether medical malpractice has occurred?
Determining and proving that medical malpractice has occurred can be a complex process. If you think you have been the victim of medical malpractice, then you should discuss your case with a medical malpractice lawyer to determine whether there are sufficient grounds and/or evidence to file a lawsuit.
Essentially, the grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit center around four main points:
- Can you establish the medical provider – patient relationship?
- Can you prove that negligence was a factor?
- Can you prove that your injury resulted from negligence?
- Can you provide proof of any damages that directly relate to the injury sustained?
An unsatisfactory healthcare/procedural outcome does not always indicate malpractice. Even with the healthiest of patients and the most competent of doctors, unforeseen problems can occur. After all, every medical procedure is, of course, not without inherent risk and each individual responds differently.
Is there a statute of limitations for filing a negligent care lawsuit?
A statute of limitations is a deadline by which a lawsuit must be filed (or permanently barred). When it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits, the procedural requirements that must be met differ from state to state, as do the statute of limitations for filing them. For example, in New Jersey, it is 2 years from the date the injury occurred – or from the time that you should reasonably have become aware of it. It is again therefore prudent to consult with an attorney licensed in the state where the alleged negligence occurred, as soon as possible to determine how best to proceed.
How can the risks of medical malpractice be minimized?
Aside from taking care to avoid the need for medical intervention by living as healthy a life as we can – one that focuses on disease prevention – there will inevitably be times that we will need to trust a healthcare professional. At some point, we will likely have to surrender and put our wellbeing in the hands of others and trust that we are safe to do so. That said, there are certainly some due diligence points to mention, as well as behaving proactively when it comes to our medical care. Patients should research their conditions to best understand them, as well as document their symptoms.
You should feel comfortable to exercise your right to speak up and not be intimidated by the medical system – ask as many questions as you feel is important, demand comprehensive answers and advocate for your own well-being.
It’s advisable to have a friend or family member accompany you to important healthcare visits, especially if you fall within a vulnerable category or need assistance with deciphering your medical care plan.It’s also important to trust your instincts. Whilst an impending procedure may be filling you with dread, don’t discount your intuition. If a medical practitioner is making you feel uncomfortable or you are lacking confidence in their experience or expertise in the field in which you require care, take time to do some research or ask more questions. Before your medical care provider has so much as reached for their stethoscope, check in with your instincts. Ensuring that we have the utmost confidence in who we decide to trust with our health and well-being is our responsibility to take seriously.