Up to 19% of physicians are accused of malpractice annually. These incidents impact the lives of patients, their families, and healthcare organization employees. Studies show that 99% of life-long medical practitioners will deal with a malpractice lawsuit by the time they reach age 65. Ensuring that your organization minimizes the risks and impact of malpractice is essential to its ability to thrive long-term. Here are the most common types of medical malpractice and what you can do to avoid them.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient accuses a physician or practice of an error directly impacting their health. Whether via negligence or omission, medical malpractice can result in losing one’s medical license, closure of their organization, and settlements that can cost upwards of hundreds of millions. For these factors and more, preventing malpractice is a high priority.
How Does a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Work?
The first part of identifying types of medical malpractice is establishing a “Standard of Care.” Standard of care means that a medical practitioner has provided care equal in skill, diligence, and accuracy to other practitioners. It is essentially the bare minimum a healthcare professional must do. For example, if a patient has a visibly broken bone, conducting an x-ray would fall under the standard of care.
During the trial, a licensed medical practitioner, presented as an expert, acts as a witness to establish whether an appropriate standard of care has been provided. The expert or medical witness must have extensive experience in the same field as the practitioner the lawsuit is against.
However, the impacted patient must also prove that the practitioner’s error was directly related to the harm experienced by the patient. For example, if a doctor disregarded the patient’s stated symptoms and those symptoms evolved into a chronic illness, the doctor may be liable.
Furthermore, patients must prove that they didn’t withhold information that would impact the type of care they received. For example, if a patient doesn’t disclose an allergy and the doctor prescribes treatment that the patient is allergic to, the doctor may not be held liable.
It’s also worth mentioning that all types of medical malpractice are subject to both a statute of limitations and a statute of ultimate repose. The former refers to the timeline in which the injury is discovered, whereas the latter refers to the timeline of when the injury occurs.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Here are the most common medical malpractice claims.
A misdiagnosis is an incorrect assessment of a patient’s illness. This results in ineffective treatment, added medical costs to the patient, can actively worsen a patient’s illness, or allow said illness to progress to the point of being untreatable or cause life-long complications. While misdiagnoses can occur in even the most effective medical environments, limiting it is possible. By using a collaborative method or holistic treatment model, providers can exchange information easily and quickly between various specialties and, in doing so, increase the accuracy of a diagnosis. This is especially true when faced with comorbid conditions, rare symptoms, or even language or cultural barriers. Additionally, healthcare organizations should prioritize constant training to keep providers abreast of changes in care, understanding of illnesses, and treatment options.
While delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis often go hand in hand, the most significant difference is that a delayed diagnosis signifies a lack of a diagnosis and, as such, a lack of any form of treatment within a reasonable timeframe. Delayed diagnoses can cause an illness to worsen significantly and are most likely in understaffed medical environments, those with a lengthy turnaround for testing, and when staff comprises inexperienced providers. Limit the likelihood of delayed diagnosis by improving staffing, partnering with new test providers where possible, and keeping your team updated on training.
Surgical errors are mistakes made during surgery. These do not refer to common complications or risks, including death, that may come with a procedure but rather mistakes brought about by lack of experience, knowledge, or disregard of protocol. For example, if a provider didn’t adequately sterilize an environment and it lead to an infection, they may be liable for surgical errors. Avoiding these errors requires healthcare organizations to establish oversight to ensure protocols are followed while prioritizing training.
Birth injuries refer to any lasting harm caused by a provider to a baby or mother during birthing. Doctors often suggest a cesarean section or c-section to avoid birth injuries, especially those related to the baby’s size or the mother’s physical limitations. Avoiding birth injuries requires providers to monitor the health of their patients during the birthing process, listen to the patient’s needs, and be aware when a c-section is an absolute must. Another factor in birth injuries is the accuracy of prenatal care. This can be limited through training and understanding even minute changes in a patient’s health.
Failure to Treat
Failure to treat occurs when a provider doesn’t address the patient’s illness meaningfully. This can be by not referring a patient to a qualified provider, not administering treatment, and not taking the proper steps to diagnose a patient. One of the best ways to prevent medical malpractice lawsuits for failure to treat is by ensuring all providers follow protocol and reasonable timelines when identifying care options.
Prescription error occurs when the medicine used to treat a patient causes them additional harm – precisely when the physician could’ve avoided injury. It can be as simple as accidentally prescribing the wrong medicine or dose to more complex ways, such as not considering how the medication may interact with other drugs a patient may be taking. For example, many pharmaceuticals cause low blood pressure. If a provider doesn’t consider these interactions and it results in a patient fainting and injuring themselves, the provider may be liable for prescription error.
How To Avoid Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
The key to avoiding medical malpractice lawsuits is improving the communication between provider and patient. This medical model is on the rise and is referred to as holistic or integrative medicine. It treats the patient as part of the diagnostic team, which lessens the chance of missing symptoms.
Another option to avoid lawsuits is ensuring that patient tests like bloodwork, samples, etc., are turned around in a reasonable timeframe to shorten the time between assessment and diagnosis. And finally, healthcare organizations should be assured that their staff is qualified. That process starts at the interview. Reference, education, and background checks allow you to build a stronger, more qualified team. By partnering with KarmaCheck to get the reliable data you need, your organization can spend more time maintaining optimal patient care.