Each year many Americans die as a result of medical errors. According to an Institute of Medicine report, between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year due to medical errors and the annual cost to society for such errors ranges from $17 to $29 billion. These figures only take into account hospital deaths. Medical errors can and do occur in every setting where health care is administered: in doctors' offices, hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and patients' homes. Further, according to the Institute of Medicine, more people die from medical mistakes each year than from highway accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.
Medical malpractice vs. Medical ErrorThe Institute of Medicine defines "medical error" as "the failure to complete a planned action as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim." Medical errors are not medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is a legal standard that must be proven. Generally speaking, medical malpractice is a negligent act by a health care professional that is contrary to the "accepted standard of care" in that specific area of medicine. The standard of care is what the medical industry as a whole has determined to be acceptable protocols and procedures for treatment of patients, conducting tests and analyzing the results of those tests. Medical malpractice lawsuits arise from "adverse events" that cause injury by medical management, not from the patient’s underlying condition. But some adverse events are not preventable and they reflect the risk associated with treatment. But when medical error causes injury because the doctor or other healthcare professional deviated from the accepted standard of care, a medical malpractice claim may arise.
What are the types of Medical Malpractice Claims?The following is list of the types of medical malpractice claims. There may be others that are not listed, contact our office.
- Emergency room treatment
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to warn of risks (see Informed Consent below)
- Pregnancy, labor and delivery, injury to mother or baby
- General surgical procedures
- And others.
AnesthesiaThe management of anesthesia during a surgical procedure is a very delicate process. Highly trained anesthesiologists are monitoring the very life of a patient as they are sedated for their procedure. As a result of mounting concerns over potential medical malpractice claims, medical schools and the American Association of Anesthesiology conducted detailed research and devised very specific monitoring and prevention standards. As a result of this self-monitoring, the number of medical malpractice claims against anesthesiologists declined significantly.
Emergency Room TreatmentIn the very few minutes that emergency room health care professionals have to assess a patient and take action, there may be errors. Fortunately, thanks to the training of the emergency room staff, these mistakes are often caught in time and the patient suffers no adverse outcomes. Other times, however, mistakes that should have been caught - like the diagnosis of a heart attack, aneurysm, or other life-threatening problems - are not. Doctors are expected to be more acutely aware of what is happening with a patient in an emergency room precisely because it is an emergency room. But in doing so they should be aware of the fact that a patient may be in more acute need of care than he or she appears.
Failure to DiagnoseThe Cleveland Clinic conducted a study in the 1990’s that concluded one out of every five patients who die in intensive care units of the nation’s best hospitals had been misdiagnosed. These medical providers are not necessarily guilty of medical malpractice because by definition, people admitted to ICUs are extremely ill and some of them have multiple medical problems. But if the medical professional reached the wrong conclusion because they failed to take an adequate medical history, perform the right tests or recognize the obvious symptoms of a particular illness, and their misdiagnosis is compounded by errors that would not be expected of any well-trained healthcare professional, their conduct may be considered malpractice.
Failure to Warn and Informed ConsentWhen someone goes into surgery, they should be given, among the many forms to sign, an “Informed Consent” document that details what the risks are of the procedure. Rarely is there a surgical procedure without risk. If you are having surgery and do not receive a full disclosure of the risks for your specific surgery on an Informed Consent form, insisted on getting one. If there is a bad outcome following surgery, it may be due to one of the risk factors listed on the Informed Consent document. If not, the outcome does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice, but there may be cause for a law firm to investigate on behalf of the patient and their family. There are also failure to warn lawsuits against pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers. They are not usually medical malpractice on the part of the healthcare professional.
Cost-related Under-treatmentIf you or a loved one are harmed or die after being denied coverage for a procedure that is part of the usual standard of medical care due to an insurance company’s cost-cutting measures, there may be cause to investigate for potential medical malpractice. With the Affordable Care Act, this type of medical malpractice may be reduced over time.
Pregnancy, Labor and DeliveryPregnancy, labor and delivery are extremely delicate times for the health and wellbeing of a mother and child. There are many things that can happen that cannot be forseen, and sometimes medical professionals must make quick judgements to save lives. At other times, there may be negligent treatment that deviates from the standard of care during the birthing process. Our office has helped families evaluate what happened and whether there is a claim for medical malpractice.
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