When we visit the doctor or go to the hospital, we put our lives in these professionals’ hands. We trust their years of education and experience will provide us with safe solutions for whatever medical conditions we may have.Unfortunately, however, this does not always happen. In fact, medical malpractice, which occurs when a doctor fails to uphold the standard of care for a patient, causes 210,000 to 400,000 people deaths annually in the United States.In the wake of such a tragic event, you may wonder if there is any way to hold the negligent doctor and/or their employer accountable for the incident. While this is possible, it’s not an easy task. Building a strong medical malpractice case requires gathering evidence and demonstrating certain key elements. Below, we discuss four specific elements that make up a strong medical malpractice claim.
What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional provides substandard medical care, and that this substandard medical care results in an injury. Substandard care may involve a doctor, nurse, or other practitioner performing an act that deviates from accepted norms of practice in the medical community, or failing to perform a necessary action. In short, the healthcare professional was “negligent.”
In medical malpractice law, “negligence” is generally defined as an action (or inaction) that conflicts with the action of a “reasonable” medical professional, or a person in similar circumstances.
FAST FACT: According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 70% of physicians have been sued at least once for medical malpractice during their careers.
What Are the Most Common Forms of Medical Malpractice?
Given the complexity of the medical field, there are many ways in which an error can occur. However, errors are more likely to occur in certain situations. Some of the most common instances of medical malpractice include:
- Patient neglect and/or failure to provide proper supervision
- Premature hospital discharge or care transfer
- Prescribing the wrong dose or type of medication
- Using a defective medical device or unsanitary instrument
It’s important to note that medical malpractice can occur in instances of inaction as well as action. For example, medical malpractice may occur when a doctor fails to diagnose a serious medical condition that later becomes incurable, such as early-stage cancer or sepsis. Another example of inaction constituting medical malpractice is when a doctor fails to obtain appropriate and informed consent from a patient before a procedure.
What to Prove in a Medical Malpractice Claim
Everybody makes mistakes, and a simple mistake during a doctor’s appointment or a medical procedure does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice. In order to build a viable medical malpractice claim, you must demonstrate four key elements: causation, a duty of care, breach of duty of care, and damages. These elements are broken down as follows:
- Causation: This element asks the question, “Did the doctor’s action or inaction cause the patient’s injury?” It’s critical to demonstrate that a doctor’s action or inaction directly led to the patient’s injury, and that it was not caused by some other preexisting condition the patient had that may have contributed to the outcome.
- Duty of care: This element asks the question, “Was the doctor involved in this claim responsible for the patient’s care?” There are several situations where this can be demonstrated, such as if the doctor was directly treating the patient, was covering another doctor’s shift and treating their patient, and more.
- Breach of duty: This element asks the question, “Was the doctor negligent in providing care to the patient?” The main way to answer this question is to determine how another medical professional with similar experience would have responded to the patient’s situation. This goes back to the question of acting in a “reasonable” manner as discussed earlier.
- Damages: This element asks the question, “Has the patient suffered economic and/or non-economic damages such as physical injury, medical bills, lost wages, or something else?” The damages must be significant enough to warrant financial payment to the affected patient.
Gathering and presenting these elements may seem overwhelming, particularly when you’re focused on recovering from your injuries. This is why it is smart for you to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can take this matter out of your hands while you focus on getting better.
How Can Hospitals Prevent Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is largely preventable. It’s important for hospitals and clinics to do everything they can to hire professional healthcare workers, implement proper training techniques, and foster a culture of patient care and compassion.
The following strategies can go a long way in protecting patients’ health and safety:
- Examine patients personally. Many cases of medical malpractice result when a doctor takes a nurse’s word for a patient’s symptoms rather than examining the patient themselves. It’s important for every doctor to personally analyze patients’ complaints of potentially serious symptoms, including pain, fever, weakness, etc.
- Respond in a timely manner. Hospitals are busy environments. However, this should not prevent a patient from receiving the care they need. Doctors should respond to patients’ emergencies as quickly as possible and document treatment times for future reference and analysis.
- Seek alternative treatments. Not all patients respond to initial treatment. It’s important for doctors to stay focused on a patient’s particular case and recommend alternative treatments that may benefit the patient or refer them to a specialist. Doctors should not assume that if the first treatment will not work, then nothing will work.
- Consider the worst-case scenario. Many patients’ concerns are dismissed by doctors. These dismissed concerns may turn into major medical events down the line. Doctors must take all concerns from a patient seriously and consider how one symptom could lead to something more serious later.
- Always monitor vital signs. Machines that monitor heart rhythm and breathing rate are vital to ensuring a patient’s health and safety. These machines must always be paid attention to, particularly during labor and delivery or surgical procedures.
Injured by Medical Malpractice? Contact Us Today
Sustaining injuries from medical malpractice can be devastating, particularly when the event could have been prevented had doctors and nurses acted appropriately. After suffering from such an event, it may seem impossible to take on doctors and hospitals, particularly when knowing they often have strong defense teams.
At Brown & Barron, LLC, our Baltimore medical malpractice attorneys have the skills and resources needed to take on large hospitals and their insurers. We have 75 years of combined experience and we have been lead trial counsel for over 100 trials. We’re proud to have helped many clients recover the compensation they need for medical bills, lost wages, and more after suffering from medical malpractice. Learn how we may help you, too.