Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional or facility neglects to provide appropriate treatment to a patient, causing injury or harm. Globally, between 3-16% of hospitalized patients experience harm resulting from medical interventions and medical malpractice. When filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the medical professional owed them a duty of care that was then breached through negligent action or inaction.
While no two medical malpractice cases are alike, most claims fall into several common categories. Understanding the most frequent areas where medical negligence occurs can help patients better advocate for their care. This article will examine the ten most prevalent types of medical malpractice cases.
1. Medication Errors
Mistakes in medication management can take various forms. Doctors may prescribe the wrong drug, incorrect dosage, or unsuitable medication combinations. These can put patients at risk of under-treatment, overdoses, and harmful drug interactions. For example, a doctor may prescribe penicillin for a patient with a recorded allergy, putting them at risk of anaphylaxis. Pediatric patients are especially vulnerable to overdoses if doctors make calculation errors. Incorrect administration of IV medications by nurses can also lead to complications.
Drug lawsuit cases often arise when a medication proves uniformly harmful to a large group. For instance, the anti-nausea drug Zofran was found to heighten the risk of birth defects and led to a major lawsuit.
A drug lawsuit can be filed in the cases listed above to gain compensation for the victims and to inform the public about the potential dangers of specific medications.
2. Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis
An incorrect or late diagnosis can have severe implications for a patient's health. Doctors are expected to utilize their expertise and conduct thorough examinations to reach an accurate diagnosis. However, sometimes, doctors may misinterpret test results, dismiss patient concerns, or even administer incorrect tests altogether. A misdiagnosis results in a patient not receiving the right treatment, causing their condition to worsen over time. Delayed diagnosis similarly allows diseases and complications to progress unchecked.
For example, a patient presenting with chest pain may be misdiagnosed with acid reflux when they're actually experiencing symptoms of a heart attack. The longer the heart attack goes undiagnosed, the more damage is done to the patient's heart. Similarly, a doctor may fail to detect cancer symptoms on time, leading to the disease spreading and becoming harder to treat. Misdiagnoses point to negligence and incompetence on the doctor's part and can never be taken lightly.
3. Surgical Mistakes
Botched surgeries occur when surgeons are negligent or unqualified to perform the procedure at hand. One common surgical error is operating on the wrong site - for instance, removing the wrong kidney or operating on the wrong limb or organ. Surgeons may also leave surgical instruments and sponges inside the patient's body, leading to pain, infections, and other complications.
Sometimes, surgeons may accidentally damage healthy organs and nerves during the operation. Post-surgical infections are also often caused by not following sterilization protocols properly. Surgical mistakes can drastically reduce a patient's quality of life due to disfigurement, disability, or the onset of other severe health conditions. Patients may require follow-up surgeries and prolonged hospitalization to recover from these errors.
4. Childbirth Injuries
Labor and delivery carry inherent risks, but certain childbirth injuries are also attributable to medical negligence. For the mother, this includes physical trauma leading to long-term dysfunctions or disabilities. For the child, it could mean death or life-long conditions that substantially affect their quality of life.
If fetal monitoring is inadequate, preventable conditions like oxygen deprivation may occur. The umbilical cord may become compressed or get wrapped around the baby's neck.
Doctors may also improperly administer medication during delivery, leading to complications. Negligence during C-sections and the use of vacuum or forceps can cause brain bleeds and nerve damage to the baby. These kinds of errors may point to substandard practices, failure to respond promptly to emergencies, ignorance of risk factors, and lack of coordination between doctors and nurses.
5. Inadequate Follow-up or Aftercare
Medical care does not conclude once the patient is discharged from the hospital. Follow-up appointments and rehabilitation are often necessary, especially after major procedures or treatments for serious illnesses. However, many patients fail to receive sufficient aftercare, leading to preventable complications later on.
For example, a patient may develop an infection after being sent home post-surgery without proper instructions to care for themselves. Those undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy may suffer from dehydration or malnutrition if they haven't received the right dietary advice. Even failure to schedule timely follow-ups can worsen outcomes. Healthcare providers need to recognize that patients remain vulnerable after discharge as well.
6. Hospital-Acquired Infections
Ironically, instead of healing patients, hospitals themselves often end up causing harm through infections. Typically spread through human errors and poor hygiene practices, hospital-acquired infections include pneumonia, MRSA, sepsis, urinary tract infections, and more. Ventilators, IV lines, and catheters used in patient care may not be adequately sterilized, and lapses in protocol also occur during procedures, leading to contamination and infection.
The overprescription of antibiotics contributes to drug-resistant superbugs as well. Immunocompromised patients are the most susceptible to these. Hospitals may fail to maintain facilities, isolate infectious patients, or screen for bacteria. Meticulous preventive measures are required to curb infection rates, but negligent medical staff only make a problematic, unhygienic system worse.
7. Incorrect Treatment Administered
One of the most egregious medical errors is when a patient receives the completely wrong type of treatment altogether. For example, the wrong kind of chemotherapy drug being used to treat cancer. Or a patient with a head injury undergoing an unnecessary surgery that worsens intracranial pressure. These indicate utter incompetence and flaws in the standard of care.
Doctors also sometimes administer treatments that are outdated or inappropriate for the patient's condition. For instance, using barbaric methods like electroconvulsive therapy without just cause. The repercussions of incorrect treatment can be severely detrimental. At a minimum, the patient's recovery is delayed while their suffering is needlessly prolonged. At worst, their condition is added on to, and their chances of recovery are significantly reduced.
8. Failure to Obtain Informed Consent
Seeking informed consent from patients before treatments and procedures is a vital ethical and legal obligation. It encompasses disclosing details about the diagnosis, nature of treatment, alternative options, risks and side effects, and prognosis. Patients have a right to understand and consent to the procedures being performed on their bodies. However, doctors may sometimes provide inadequate or misleading information. Patients may be unaware of the potential consequences and whether other less risky treatment paths exist.
Failure to obtain informed consent shows negligence and disregard for patient rights. In the event of complications, patients may discover they were denied the ability to make an educated decision about their medical care.
9. Errors Related to Medical Equipment or Devices
Sophisticated technology and equipment are routinely used in diagnosis and treatment. However, technical errors can have very real consequences for patients. Equipment may malfunction during imaging scans, causing misdiagnoses. Software glitches or user incompetence can lead to radiation overdoses. During surgeries, devices like lasers and endoscopes can cause injury if mishandled.
Improperly maintained or calibrated equipment also pose grave risks. For example, faulty defibrillators may fail to revive a patient during cardiac arrest. Flawed personal protective equipment also exposes staff and patients alike to infections. Doctors must abide by strict safety standards when using complex medical technology for their own benefit as well as the patient's.
While the vast majority of doctors provide excellent care, medical mistakes still happen. The most common allegations in malpractice lawsuits include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, and prescription mistakes, among others. Each case involves unique circumstances, which must be carefully examined when medical negligence is suspected. In the event that malpractice is evident, one might be entitled to financial compensation for their trouble.