Understanding Hospital Negligence
Going into the hospital for treatment is often stressful for a patient. You may have a serious injury or ailment, often one that causes a great deal of pain or uncertainty. You place your health in the hands of medical care providers, who need to carefully monitor you and work with you to provide a high standard of care.
When the hospital fails in that vital duty of care to its patients, hospital negligence, also known as medical negligence or medical malpractice, occurs. Learn more about hospital related injury accidents from our experienced medical malpractice attorneys.
Hospital Negligence: Defined
Hospital negligence is an act of negligence that occurs in a hospital setting due to an error, negligent act, or omission of a hospital employee. Often, hospital negligence occurs when an employee other than a doctor, like a nurse, commits an act of negligence or other error.
Negligent acts can include a variety of challenges and conditions. However, in general, they require that the hospital in some way violate the standard of care for a patient.
Hospital Negligence versus Physician Negligence
If you have suffered negligence in a hospital due to a physician's error, you may wonder whether you have the right to sue the hospital as well as the physician for that error.
In most cases, hospitals do not bear direct liability for the negligent actions of a physician. Hospitals do not, in most cases, employ physicians directly. Instead, they have contracts that allow the physician to practice at that hospital.
While the hospital may provide support for the physician, including aftercare for patients treated by that doctor, the hospital does not control the physician's actions. Therefore, most of the time, you will file a claim against the physician directly, rather than the hospital, when a physician commits that type of error. Learn more about the different instances of negligence in order to determine if you have a medical malpractice claim.
Types of Hospital Negligence
Hospital negligence can interfere with patient care. Some negligent acts may make it more difficult for a patient to get treatment, while others may lead to increased injury for the patient. Some different types of medical malpractice would include:
Misreading or Ignoring Laboratory Results
Patients in a hospital may go through a great deal of lab work intended to fully establish the extent of their condition. Lab work can tell doctors a great deal about the patient's status, including indicating some potentially dangerous conditions. Monitoring lab work can prove essential for many conditions since patients may have much more severe outcomes if doctors do not respond quickly to the conditions indicated by that lab work.
However, sometimes, laboratory results are misread by the lab tech. In some cases, that may mean that the patient must go through unnecessary invasive treatments. In other cases, doctors may ignore laboratory results altogether. They may assume they know what the patient needs, despite lab results that indicate a different treatment.
Surgical Errors, Including Wrong Site Surgeries or Unnecessary Surgeries
Hospitals need clear policies to help them avoid errors during the surgical process. During surgery, patients usually face a great deal of vulnerability. They cannot advocate for themselves during the surgery and rely on the hospital staff to care for them. Unfortunately, surgical errors may also mean extreme damage to the patient, including long-term damages.
Unfortunately, poor hospital policies and practices can substantially increase the risk of surgical errors. For example, a hospital that does not double-check paperwork and patient identity may accidentally operate on the wrong patient or the wrong part of a patient's body.
Sometimes, patients might not realize what happened until they wake up. An operation on the wrong organ can prove catastrophic, while amputation of the wrong limb would be devastating.
Ignoring or Failing to Take Patient History
Patient history offers a great deal of information to the treating physician. With a full patient history, doctors can get a much clearer idea of exactly what patients have gone through in the past, what treatments they might already have tried, what treatments did not work for a specific patient, and what steps the patient may need in the future.
In some cases, however, the nurse responsible for intake might not take the patient's full history. The nurse might skip over vital questions or even ignore the information the patient tries to provide, especially if the information seems to contradict the nurse's opinion of the patient's complaints or needs.
Unfortunately, failure to take the patient's history correctly can lead to serious errors in treatment, from prescribing a medication to which a patient has a known allergy to offering a treatment that the patient has tried in the past, but that did not work, or even that had devastating consequences. Failure to take patient history could make it more difficult to diagnose the patient correctly.
Generally, patients go into the hospital because they have severe symptoms they need a doctor to treat. In the normal course of treatment, patients remain in the hospital until they have recovered enough from their ailment that they can begin to manage their recoveries on their own. In some cases, that can mean days in the hospital. In others, it may mean weeks or even months.
As much as patients want to return home, premature discharge can worsen patient outcomes, especially in very serious cases.
Suppose, for example, that a patient starts to show signs of infection following a surgical procedure. The hospital shrugs off concerning symptoms, including breathing problems or elevated heart rate, and pushes the patient to go on home anyway. The patient, feeling confident in his doctor's recommendations, does not return to the hospital, even as those symptoms worsen. Eventually, the patient becomes septic, which could lead to severe outcomes, including death.
Incomplete Discharge Instructions
Once a patient leaves the hospital, he has to manage his care independently instead of relying on the care team at the hospital to manage that care. In the hospital, an experienced team of doctors and nurses will monitor all of a patient's needs. Nurses can respond quickly if a patient shows any signs of distress or needs additional treatment.
On release, many patients continue to need some types of treatment, including monitoring any wounds, cleaning wounds, and replacing bandages. Hospital staff must provide substantial instructions for those patients and their caregivers so that they can take care of needed care and identify potential signs of trouble, which could signal that they need to return to the hospital as soon as possible.
If the hospital fails to provide those discharge instructions, or if the hospital does not provide full discharge instructions with all the information that patients need to manage their conditions after discharge, the hospital may bear liability for any error in treatment that leads to negative patient outcomes.
Failure to Order Needed Testing
Testing can provide hospitals with a great deal of information about a patient's needs. In some cases, proper testing can identify serious health problems, including emergency conditions that require immediate medical attention. When the hospital does not order that vital testing, on the other hand, it can mean serious outcomes for the patient.
Sometimes, however, hospitals fail to order the testing that patients need. For example, the hospital might write off someone with severe abdominal pain as medication-seeking and fail to order tests, only to discover that the patient has a serious medical condition like appendicitis. Due to the delay in testing, the patient might not receive treatment for that condition, which could, in many cases, lead to severe impact. In some cases, appendix rupture, for example, could end in death.
In extremely rare cases, hospitals may order treatments that patients do not need to generate income for the hospital. Unnecessary treatments may mean that the patient undergoes immense distress, expense, and pain. If you feel that the hospital has ordered unnecessary treatments, having a medical expert take a look at the case could prove critical.
Failure to Recognize Symptoms
Hospitals must carefully listen to patient complaints and provide a solid assessment of what those symptoms might mean. Sometimes, however, hospitals may not listen to the patient's symptoms or might not recognize what those symptoms mean, even in cases where the patient clearly presents with the symptoms of a known ailment, condition, or problem.
Women and minorities, in particular, face substantial challenges related to misdiagnosis or doctors seeming to ignore what they have to say. However, failure to listen to a patient's symptoms may decrease the odds that the patient will receive proper treatment and increase the risk of negative outcomes.
Improper Medication Administration or Improper Dosage
Medication errors can cause serious problems for many patients. The wrong medication can worsen symptoms or cause a patient to have a dangerous allergic reaction, while administering the wrong dose of a medication can lead to immense medication side effects. Hospitals must have checks and balances to help reduce the risk of medication errors. Unfortunately, those errors can still slip through, leading to significant problems for patients.
Ignoring Patient Needs
Sometimes, hospitals may fail to provide a high standard of care for their patients. While nurses often have several patients care for throughout a shift, and hospitals may struggle with staffing challenges, they must nevertheless provide a high standard of care for all patients.
That standard of care includes providing for patients' needs and reducing the risk of fall injuries, bedsores, and other injuries caused by caregiver inattention. When a hospital fails to provide a high standard of care for all its patients, it can increase the risk of injury or even cause patients to develop other symptoms.
Failure to Protect Patients
In addition to providing a high standard of care for patients, hospitals must exercise caution to ensure that patients do not experience additional danger due to their hospital stay. Unfortunately, patients come into the hospital with a variety of conditions.
Taking steps to avoid the transfer of germs from one patient to another, when possible, can help keep patients healthier and avoid adverse outcomes. Unfortunately, some hospitals may fail in that vital duty of care, causing their patients to leave with more dangerous conditions than those they came in with.
What to Do When You Suspect Hospital Negligence
If you suspect that you have suffered negligence in a hospital, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Proving medical malpractice may require an expert to testify about the standard of care you should have received and clear evidence of any injuries you sustained due to that provider's negligence. You should:
Make sure you get the care you need.
Advocate for yourself. Share information. Make sure that your caregivers know about your needs, when necessary.
Document your care.
Your medical records will contain a great deal of information about the care you have received, but they may not notice a failure to order the testing necessary to diagnose you or they may ignore your medical history. Document any inconsistencies in your care or any occasions when you failed to receive the standard of care you expected. Take photos of any injuries sustained due to that lack of care.
Talk to an attorney as soon as possible.
Any time you suffer negligence in a hospital, you need an attorney to help you handle your claim. A personal injury attorney can put you in contact with medical experts who can offer more information.