Doctors, more than other professionals, bear a very high duty of care to the people they see throughout their business days. As a patient, you have reason to expect that your doctor will offer the highest possible standard of care to you as you pursue treatment for illnesses, injuries, or routine medical needs.
When a doctor fails to offer that high standard of treatment, you may find yourself dismayed. Has your doctor committed an act of medical malpractice against you? Do you have the right to compensation? Moreover, how does the law define medical malpractice?
What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a care provider offers substandard or negligent treatment to a patient, resulting in some type of injury to that patient.
Grounds for a medical malpractice claim require:
1. You had a doctor/patient relationship with the provider that committed an act of medical malpractice against you.
Grounds for a medical malpractice claim require a doctor/patient relationship with the care provider.
For example, you likely have an existing and even long-standing relationship with your primary who helps treat an illness you have dealt with for quite some time. Likewise, if you go to the emergency room for immediate treatment of an illness or injury, you will have a doctor/patient relationship with the provider who takes care of you.
You do not, however, have a doctor/patient relationship with every care provider. Suppose, for example, that you go to the hospital with a broken bone in your hand. The doctor that reads your X-ray fails to identify the break on your first visit, although the X-rays clearly show it. Another doctor in the room may not share liability for failing to identify that injury, even if that doctor had plenty of time to observe the X-rays.
Likewise, if you have a doctor/patient relationship with one doctor in a large practice, the others will not face liability for an act of negligence on the part of the doctor you see regularly, even if they might have, at some point, accessed your records.
2. The care provider failed to provide a high standard of care to you.
Neglecting to provide a high standard of care can take several forms, depending on your ailment and the type of treatment you have reason to expect from the care provider. However, in general, your care provider will bear liability for negligent actions when he fails to offer the standard of treatment that any other care provider in similar circumstances would have offered.
Medical malpractice may look different depending on the type of neglect or error. It could include:
#2.1 Failure to Diagnose/Misdiagnosis
Misdiagnosis and failure to diagnose can cause substantial complications for many patients. If a patient presents clear symptoms of a specific ailment, but the care provider fails to acknowledge them and diagnoses something else instead, the patient may not receive treatment for the original ailment, which could cause symptoms to worsen or leave the patient suffering unnecessarily.
In cases of misdiagnosis, the patient may also receive treatment for a condition he does not have.
#2.2 Failure to Provide Treatment
Some doctors may, even after diagnosing a patient, fail to provide the treatment that patient needs. Failure to provide adequate treatment can leave the doctor liable for any additional suffering the patient may face because of those failures.
#2.3 Birth Injuries
Trauma during childbirth can cause extreme injury to both mother and child. Birth injuries often occur either because the doctor fails to provide necessary interventions, or because the doctor uses unnecessary interventions that ultimately traumatize the mother or baby.
#2.4 Medication Errors
Medication errors can have immense consequences, especially in cases where the patient receives a much larger dose than necessary. Medications often bring substantial side effects, and overdosing can cause much more severe effects that may substantially injure the patient.
#2.5 Surgical Errors
During surgery, patients often prove particularly vulnerable. Surgical errors, including operating on the wrong organ or side of the body, failure to notice distress in the patient, or even leaving behind items in the patient’s body can cause substantial complications in recovery or lead to immense problems for the patient.
3. The care provider’s negligence led to the patient’s injuries.
A successful medical malpractice claim requires that the care provider’s negligent actions caused you to suffer injury in some way. If you do not suffer injury, you can’t move forward with a claim, even against a negligent provider.
Suppose, for example, that you come to your doctor with complaints of pain or clear symptoms that indicate a specific ailment. Your care provider tries to brush you off: insisting, for example, that you just need to lose weight.
When you press the issue, however, your doctor agrees to further testing that later identifies the issue. You receive treatment in the same timeline, and with no further repercussions, so you may not have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. On the other hand, if your doctor fails to recommend the necessary course of testing and treatment based on your symptoms, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
Do You Need a Medical Malpractice Lawyer?
If you believe that a doctor failed to provide the high standard of care you deserve, resulting in medical negligence that caused serious injury, a lawyer can help you break down your claim and get a better idea of whether you have a medical malpractice claim.