One third of all doctors have been sued for malpractice by the time they hit 55. Nearly all surgeons and obstetricians have been sued at least once before they hit retirement. This is why doctors should understand the terminology surrounding medical malpractice. Here are the medical malpractice terms that all doctors should know.
The term medical malpractice is an umbrella term referring to substandard or negligent care that harms the patient. Medical malpractice is only possible when there is a doctor-patient relationship, the doctor was negligent in some way, and the negligence caused harm to the patient that resulted in damage to the patient. For example, you can’t be sued for malpractice if the person is merely unhappy with your care, though it was the right treatment based on the diagnosis.
Damages refer to the actual harm the patient in the suit has suffered due to the healthcare provider’s negligence. This can include medical expenses they otherwise wouldn’t have had to pay, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, disability, disfigurement, death, and “pain and suffering”. The family of someone who died can sue for their medical expenses, burial expenses and a lost lifetime of earnings.
You can be penalized for doing the right thing without the patient’s fully informed consent or that of their appointed representative. Informed consent means that the patient is fully aware of their diagnosis, treatment options, the potential risks and the alternatives. There are exceptions, such as when an unconscious patient is wheeled into the emergency room by paramedics. However, that is rare. You should work to ensure that patients understand what is going on and what could happen. You reduce your legal liability when you support patients getting a second opinion. The other doctor can explain alternatives, and if they agree with your recommendations, the patient will trust you more.
Standard of Care
The standard of care refers to the de facto medical standard for diagnosing and treating a particular condition. You can be charged with medical malpractice if you don’t meet the common recognized standard of care. You won’t face penalties if you exceed that standard of care, such as going above and beyond the call of duty in an emergency. When you’re handling medical malpractice allegations, you often need to prove that the care you provided was in line with standards of care given the diagnosis at the time. Then you aren’t punished for treating a stomach ailment that turned out to be a rare form of stomach cancer.
Medical negligence is a complex area, because it is so subjective. It is obvious when someone makes a major mistake, such as when they remove the wrong foot during surgery. Errors of commission like ordering the wrong test or giving someone the wrong medication can result in charges of medical negligence, too. Doctors often compensate by running a wider battery of tests. This protects them from the failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis that is the number one reason for medical malpractice claims.
Errors of omission are when a doctor does not do something they should have done. Failing to prescribe antibiotics though you’ve diagnosed an infection that calls for such a treatment would be one example. Seeing a likely broken bone but not splinting it and referring the patient to an orthopedist would be another.