Most doctors provide commendable medical care to their patients. However, on occasion, even a good doctor can fail to meet the standard of care expected of a doctor. The doctors background, education, and training in a given community are all factors. In the event that a doctor fails to meet the accepted standard of care and this failure causes damage to the patient, a legal claim for medical malpractice may be warranted.
Medical negligence (also commonly called medical malpractice) can take many forms. These can include failed or delayed diagnosis of a condition, diagnostic errors, and failure to obtain consent to treatment. Patient identification mistakes, medication errors and careless surgical procedures are also included. Failing to warn the patient of the risks of a particular treatment is also considered medical negligence.
Medical Malpractice is actionable against most categories of healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, and physiotherapists, among many others. Medical Malpractice is not a term restricted to doctors and may include healthcare facilities such as hospitals and clinics as well.
People would be shocked to learn that the medically accepted standards of care are seemingly very low in many instances. Care that seems unreasonably deficient to the public may, in fact, fall within the acceptable standard of the medical community. For example, the standard of care may be met in a case where an individual suffers a perforated bowel as a result of a routine colonoscopy... even if the damages are devastating. Simply because a surgery or medical procedure has gone wrong does not automatically mean that the doctor is legally liable. Not all errors or poor outcomes are the result of negligence.
What Can I Do?
Should you believe that you are a victim of medical malpractice, it is advisable to meet with a lawyer immediately. There are time limitations that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Failure to commence legal action against the healthcare provider in time means you will lose your right to sue.
If you commence legal action for negligence against a doctor (or any health care provider), you will be required to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the doctor failed to meet the standard of care and that you suffered injury as a result of that failure. In order to establish such proof, you will need to rely on "medical experts" to provide an opinion with respect to the standard of care in your type of medical situation. The expert should also opine on whether the doctor's failure to meet the standard of care is the proximate cause of your damages.
It is often not until a medical expert reviews your case that you will learn conclusively whether you have been a victim of medical malpractice or merely a victim of unfortunate circumstances.
Medical error and related statistics are increasingly in the news. HealthGrades, a health care quality company, recently released a study based on the review of 37 million patient records. HealthGrades determined that an average of 195,000 people in the United States died due to potentially preventable, in-hospital medical errors in each of 2000, 2001, and 2002.
In July 2006 the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies released a report. The report stated that medication errors are among the most common medical errors. These errors harm at least 1.5 million people every year in the United States. The CMAJ, a leading Canadian medical journal, dated May 25, 2004, included a study by Baker, Norton, Flintoff et al. It was entitled "The Canadian Adverse Events Study: The incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada."
In this study 'adverse events' were defined as unintended injuries or complications resulting in death, disability or prolonged hospital stay that arise from health care management. It reported that there was an overall incidence rate of adverse events of 7.5% in hospitals in Canada. This study suggests that, of the almost 2.5 million annual hospitalizations in Canada of the type studied, about 185,000 of these hospitalizations are associated with an adverse event and close to 70,000 of these are potentially preventable.
Clearly errors occur in the provision of health care to patients. Some errors occur as a result of the negligence of the health care provider. However, it is often not clear as to the health care worker's responsibility for a poor patient outcome until a court has the opportunity to consider the issue of negligence.
*** The information above is not intended to be legal advice. Each situation is different and the information provided above may not provide you with all law applicable to your facts. To ensure you are properly protected under the law applicable to your facts, please contact MRPC Law for a free consultation.