Medical liability issues can be complicated—malpractice defies a healthcare professional's duty to provide appropriate care. When a medical provider harms a patient by failing to follow a recognized standard of treatment, they breach their duty. Preventable harm seriously threatens patient safety, causing physical pain and mental anguish. Victims often suffer a lifetime disability, hardship, and loss of income or livelihood.
In the medical profession, however, human error can be deadly. When a doctor, or any healthcare professional, makes an unavoidable mistake —one that another doctor would have made in the same circumstances, it is what it is; just an unfortunate mistake. However, mistakes made because of an error or negligence may give a victim or a family grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
Unfortunately, professional negligence can kill patients. A paper published by the National Institutes of Health reinforces the severity of the problem, stating, “Approximately 400,000 hospitalized patients experience some type of preventable harm each year.”
Some Possible Reasons for This Pervasive Problem
Some of the underlying causes of preventable harm include:
- Cost control measures
- Increased workload
- Staffing issues
- Ineffective policies and procedures
- A breakdown in communications
- Poor documentation
- Insufficient supervision
In one recent year, medical liability insurance carriers in Illinois paid out $112,303,300 million in claims.
You can hold a healthcare provider liable for malpractice for many reasons—some of the more common preventable errors that may give patients grounds for medical malpractice include:
- Diagnostic errors
- Medication errors
- Failure to treat
- Surgical or procedural errors
- Childbirth injuries
- Failure to diagnose or treat infection
- Anesthesia errors
The Significance of a Delayed Diagnosis or a Misdiagnosis
Medicine has a great deal of uncertainty, and failure to diagnose an illness is a common medical mistake. Heart attacks, cancers, pneumonia, kidney failure, urinary tract infections, fractures, abscesses, and aortic aneurysms top the list.
There are about 87,000 available diagnostic codes healthcare providers use to evaluate the signs, symptoms, abnormal findings, complaints, and causes of illnesses and diseases. Despite the complexity of the science of medicine, receiving an accurate and timely diagnosis is a key aspect of quality healthcare.
“Diagnostic errors-inaccurate or delayed diagnoses-persist throughout all settings of care and continue to harm an unacceptable number of patients. It is likely that most people will experience at least one diagnostic error in their lifetime.”—National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Some common reasons for a delay or misdiagnosis:
- Failure to establish the underlying cause of a medical problem
- A medical professional performs the wrong diagnostic tests
- A medical professional performs or interprets a diagnostic test incorrectly
- A primary care provider does not refer a patient to the appropriate specialist
- A lack of complete medical history
It may be malpractice if a licensed healthcare provider (physician, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, pharmacist) provides a substandard level of care. In other words, they do something that most medical professionals would not do.
Failure To Treat
Another significant form of preventable harm is when a patient receives a correct diagnosis yet somehow receives no treatment. A delay in treatment can sometimes result in irreparable harm and, possibly, death. Despite years of formal education and professional training, doctors and other healthcare providers are only human—humans make mistakes.
For example, these are some examples of possible malpractice failure to treat scenarios:
- Failure to perform medical tests required to determine the cause of the condition
- Not adequately monitoring a patient's known condition
- Not treating a medical condition promptly
- Unreasonably delaying diagnosis
- Interpreting tests incorrectly
- Failing to refer to an appropriate specialist
- Releasing a patient too early
- A doctor failing to inform a patient of available treatments
Prescription Drug/Medication Errors
Medication errors are a pervasive but preventable problem. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, each year, 7,000 to 9,000 people die in the United States due to a medication error.
Some of the risk factors for medication errors include:
- Poor handwriting
- Lack of staff training
- Medically complex patients
- Lack of follow-up care
- Poor communication
- Medications requiring calculations
- Challenging patient populations
Medication errors can occur for various reasons and are frequently part of a malpractice lawsuit.
- The doctor makes a mistake when writing the prescription
- A pharmacist misinterprets a handwritten prescription
- The patient receives the incorrect dosage (either too little or too much)
- A pharmacist fills the medication incorrectly
- Doctor fails to recognize drug interactions before prescribed or taken
- Doctor fails to consider known drug allergies
- Failing to warn patients about medication side effects
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives more than 100,000 reports yearly concerning suspected medication errors.
Surgical or Procedural Errors
A recent white paper published by Coverys, a medical liability insurer, states, “In an era of productivity and profitability, surgeons and their support teams are challenged to do more with less time. More procedures, more patients, more billing codes. And those pressures can have patient safety consequences.” This statement succinctly describes the environment that brings rise to surgically related malpractice claims.
According to Beckers Hospital Review, Illinois is among the top ten states with the most malpractice claims—with plastic surgeons and general surgeons leading the list of specialists named in lawsuits
A surgical error may occur because:
- A doctor performs the wrong procedure
- Surgery on the wrong site or the wrong side
- Unnecessary surgery
- Avoidable collateral damage
- Surgical instruments were not sterile
- Medical equipment left inside the patient
- Inadequate follow-up care
- Administration of incorrect medications or dosages
- Neglecting to follow postoperative procedures
- Not providing the patient with the proper instructions for postoperative recovery
All aspects of surgery, including preoperative and postoperative care and decision-making, can lead to malpractice claims. Surgery, under any circumstance, is risky; however, there is a distinct difference between a surgical error and the risks associated with surgery. Those persons who suffer injury or complications due to professional negligence may have grounds for a malpractice case.
There is very little margin for error when it comes to childbirth. The newborn's health is directly proportional to the mother's health status at the time of birth, and both mom and baby depend on state-of-the-art medical care to get them through this vulnerable time.
One of the causes of a birth injury is a breakdown in communication between members of the birthing team. A hospital's labor and delivery areas can be hectic, and staffing shortages can add to the confusion and lack of defined areas of responsibility.
Both mother and baby are in danger when important medical information is not charted and shared promptly. Nothing is more tragic than a sick child—and not every condition results from medical negligence. However, there are instances where a family may have reason to contact a personal injury attorney about the possibility of a lawsuit.
Some examples of medical negligence may include:
- Failure to order a timely C-section
- Improper use of medications like Pitocin
- Improper resuscitation technique
- Unnecessary use of forceps or vacuum extraction
- Oxygen deprivation during delivery
- Failure to act on dangerous fetal heart rate fluctuations
- Failure of timely treatment for meningitis or jaundice
- Failure to treat a prolapsed cord
- Not anticipating possible complications from a baby's size
- Improperly administered medications
- Negligence in monitoring and treating newborns
- Undiagnosed or untreated respiratory problems or blood chemistry issues
- Failure to recognize signs of fetal distress
- Failure to recognize or treat elevated bilirubin levels
- Pulling or twisting too hard on the baby as they exit the birth canal
Birth injuries that may result from medical malpractice include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain injuries
- Bone fractures
- Damage to the peripheral nerve—a brachial plexus injury
- Injury to the cranial nerve and the spinal cord
- An intra-abdominal injury that damages the internal organs
Birth trauma caused by negligence may result in a lack of oxygen or blood to the brain during labor and can cause a child to suffer permanent brain damage. Complications caused by medical negligence during childbirth can affect the baby and mother for a lifetime. Birth injuries caused by negligence are compensable. Those families dealing with the tragedy and emotional trauma of a birth injury may be able to pursue financial compensation through a medical malpractice claim.
Anesthesia, in its highest form, is induced unconsciousness. There are some expected side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, but when things go wrong, a patient can suffer an injury to a part of the nervous system, a stroke, or blood clots. When nurse anesthetists or anesthesiologists are negligent or fail to perform with an accepted standard of care, a patient can experience respiratory issues, a heart attack, pneumonia, or brain damage from a lack of oxygen.
Any of these conditions can result from:
- A patient receives the wrong dosage of anesthesia
- The anesthesia is not given promptly
- The patient was improperly intubated
- The surgical team failed to recognize adverse reactions
- The patient was improperly monitored
- The patient's medical history was not considered
- The patient was not given proper pre-surgical instructions
Failure to Prevent or Treat Infection
The most common type of hospital-acquired infections include:
- Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
- Central line-associated bloodstream infections
- Surgical site infections
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia
- Clostridium difficile
Sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition resulting from an infection. The Sepsis Alliance tells us the risk of dying from sepsis increases by 8 percent every hour that medical professionals delay treatment.
The Many Faces Of Malpractice
Medical malpractice occurs more than most people realize and is frequently underreported. It can result from negligence, lack of proper training, inattention, complacency, incompetency, or substance abuse. It can happen in the surgical suite, ICU, emergency department, or nursing home.
Examples of cases where an error or negligence could lead to a malpractice lawsuit include:
- Misdiagnosis or a failure to diagnose
- Unnecessary or incorrect surgery
- Being released from care too early
- Lack of informed consent
- A failure to order appropriate tests
- Inaccurate test results
- No follow-up care
- Hospital-acquired infection
- Pressure ulcer
- An impaired healthcare provider
- Sexual misconduct
- Refusal to treat a patient in an emergency situation
- Patient abandonment
- The use of an unsafe, tainted, or contaminated blood product,
- The use of an unsafe drug
- The use of a defective medical device
- Failure of a hospital to ensure the competency of a nurse or physician
- Errors in interpreting radiology studies
Medical negligence is a leading cause of death in the United States. Millions are also injured each year as a result of substandard medical care. Care providers failing to fulfill their professional duties can lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit. Victims of medical malpractice, as well as surviving family members, may be able to find a measure of justice with the help of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Those harmed because of negligence and substandard medical care may recover financial compensation for:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Physical and occupational rehabilitation costs
- Assistive devices
- Renovations to make a home or vehicle accessible
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Changes in family dynamics
- Mental anguish
If you or a family member believe your injuries are due to the negligent actions of a doctor, hospital, or another medical professional, contact a medical malpractice lawyer near you for your free case evaluation.