What are the Most Common Areas of Malpractice?
Most of us put our faith in the doctors we see on a regular basis and in the doctors they refer us to. Nonetheless, medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and medical malpractice lawsuits continue to be filed. As a patient, you should know the following:
What constitutes medical malpractice?
Everyone makes mistakes, including doctors, so it is important to understand that every slip-up is not cause for a malpractice lawsuit. What distinguishes malpractice is that it:
- Is the result of incompetence, inattention, recklessness or lack of proper supervision
- Causes serious harm to the patient
- Is beyond the pale of what a reasonable, competent doctor would do in the same situation
- Is the primary cause of the patient’s injury
Because it is often difficult to distinguish between mistakes and malpractice, if you believe you or a loved one has been injured by medical malpractice, you should make an appointment with a highly qualified medical malpractice attorney to have your case reviewed. You should be aware that you will not have to pay such a legal representative until she or he wins you compensation for your pain and suffering and lost income so you have nothing to lose.
Which types of medical malpractice are most common?
Some of the most frequent causes of medical malpractice suits involve:
- Anesthesia errors
- Birth injuries
- Diagnosis errors (failure to diagnose, late diagnosis, misdiagnosis)
- Emergency room errors
- Hospital negligence
- Lack of informed consent (failure to let patient know possible consequences)
- Nursing home abuse
- Surgical mistakes
- Post-surgical infection
- Medication mistakes in prescriptions, administration, dosage
Are there more incidents of medical malpractice in certain medical disciplines?
Yes, some types of medical specialists are much more prone to being sued for medical practice, not because they make more mistakes, but because the nature of their medical actions is more likely to lead to long-term negative consequences.
The doctors most frequently sued are those who practice the following specialties:
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Internal medicine/family medicine
It is easy to see how obstetrical and surgical mistakes, as well as those to do with anesthesia, may cause immediate death or long-term ill effects and how obstetricians may bear the blame for undiagnosed birth defects that can lead to lifelong misery. In the other specialties, failures or delays in diagnoses too frequently lead to unrelieved pain, unnecessary and/or harmful treatment, or disease that advances unchecked and becomes fatal.
What are the top five reasons for medical malpractice suits?
Medical malpractice may occur during an emergency room admission, during inpatient or outpatient treatment, at the time of diagnosis, during health management, during surgery or aftercare. Typically the top five reasons for malpractice suits are:
- Failure to diagnose
- Patient injury during surgery or treatment, resulting in long-term disability or death
- Failure to treat a patient’s condition by approved methods
- Poor recordkeeping, inadequate patient monitoring
- Medication errors, including errors in administration and dosage
While other incidents certainly lead to medical malpractice lawsuits, most patients or patients’ family members bring cases to court that involve one of the above.
Why are so many serious medical mistakes made?
Though the answers to this question are hard to pin down, some of the reasons for medical errors are:
- Physician fatigue (common in emergency rooms and when doctors are required to work too many consecutive hours, usually in hospital settings)
- Short periods with patients due to financial pressures and because insurance and government regulations demand excessive documentation
- Doctor distraction by personal matters
- Poor judgement of physicians impaired by alcohol of drugs
- Poor communication among doctors and other staff members
- Physician tendency to focus on the most prominent cause for a symptom and failure to rule out more unusual causes for patient complaints
- Inadequately trained or improperly supervised physicians
- Improper hospital protocol that doesn’t result in proper safety or sanitation measures
How can you avoid medical malpractice?
Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, you can’t always avoid medical malpractice. Still, there are a number of steps you can take to lower your risk of becoming a victim of this often insidious danger:
- Research not only your doctor’s credentials but her/his patient reviews
- Check out any previous complaints against your doctor
- Bring someone to advocate for you and to help you remember what is said, especially if you’re sick, nervous or groggy during the visit
- Bring a list of questions you want to ask and a complete list of medications and supplements you take
- Take notes on specific information given to you; ask for clarification if needed
- Make sure your surgeon marks your surgical site clearly so no catastrophic mistakes are made (wrong-site surgeries are more common than you think)
- Avoid hospital infections by demanding a thorough cleaning of your room, your bed, and anything you have physical contact with (e.g. your phone); make sure everyone who enters the room washes his/her hands
What should you do if you are a victim of medical malpractice?
If, in spite of your best efforts, you suffer an injury, disease, dysfunction or permanent disability as a result of medical malpractice, contact a well-credentialed medical malpractice attorney with a reputation for compassion and a track record of success. The first duty of your physician is to “do no harm.” If you have suffered harm due to incompetent or negligent medical care, you deserve substantial compensation.
Brian Cummings has 20 years of litigation experience, including successfully handling and trying scores of medical malpractice and personal injury cases. Brian is Board-certified as a Medical Malpractice attorney by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys. He is 1 of less than 20 attorneys in Tennessee who have earned this certification. Brian is licensed to practice law before the United States Supreme Court, and in Tennessee, Hawaii, California, Georgia, and Florida.