The trend in patients filing medical malpractice lawsuits has been on the rise over the past decade. An average of 85,000 actual suits are filed, but the number of injuries reaches closer to one million.
When you are a busy, knowledgeable doctor in a popular, bustling practice or hospital, it feels great to be treating so many people and helping them recover from their ailments. But it also increases your chances of misdiagnosing or mistreating one of them and becoming subject to a malpractice claim.
No matter how thorough you are or how much of an expert in your field you have proven yourself to be, mistakes happen and even when they don’t, people occasionally will try to pass the blame for their problems on to you anyway.
There are many reasons why medical doctors are sued every year for malpractice, and it’s a smart financial investment to protect yourself in advance. Here are 7 of the most common reasons malpractice lawsuits are filed every year.
The Most Common Reasons for Medical Malpractice Claims
Medical accidents account for a minimum of 65,000 to 200,000 deaths every year. 25,000 to 120,000 of these are due to negligence. Of all of the medical malpractice claims filed annually, 1.7% of physicians are responsible for over one-quarter of all incidents, setting a poor name for the medical industry in general, yet they continue practising.
As a whole, these 7 factors are responsible for the majority of malpractice lawsuits:
- Failing to diagnose a reasonable medical condition. Called “diagnostic error,” this type of medical malpractice occurs when a doctor did not include the right diagnosis on their differential diagnosis list. This missing diagnosis, however, has to be one that another doctor in a similar speciality would have reasonably included.
- Failing to treat a reasonable medical condition. In some cases, this happens when the correct diagnosis was included on the differential diagnosis list, but the doctor did not order or perform the appropriate testing to verify the accuracy of the diagnosis. He or she could have but did not seek a second opinion from a specialist or in any way pursue the treatment for the diagnosis.
Physicians are expected to stay up-to-date on the most recent medications, treatments, and changes in diagnosing conditions through continuing education annually using approved educating resources like Scrubs Continuing Education.
- Prescribing or administering medication inappropriately. This type of mistake happens frequently in medical practices and hospitals but is usually minor and corrected quickly. However, when it isn’t, it can cause significant damage.
Medication errors are any failure in treatment that has the potential to harm or causes harm to the patient. This can include the basics of choosing the medication and dosage to prescribe, incorrectly writing the prescription, picking the wrong strength, dispensing it incorrectly, and failure to monitor for adverse effects.
- Injuring a patient through treatment or lack of treatment. When the proper diagnosis is made, it is then the physician’s responsibility to treat the condition correctly. If by neglecting to administer treatment or by incorrectly treating the diagnosis, the patient is harmed or injured in any way, this is considered medical malpractice.
- Poorly documenting treatment and educating the patient on continuing care. Health care documentation is a responsibility given to any person who provides care to a patient. The doctor’s documentation is key in knowing what diagnosis is being treated, what the symptoms are, and any medication and treatment that will be pursued.
Improper, inaccurate, or incomplete documentation can cause anyone treating the condition further to make errors that can harm the patient.
In the same vein, failing to properly educate the patient on how to handle their own follow-up care can have disastrous consequences, too. When the patient doesn’t understand that they can’t get their stitches wet, for instance, and they shower or bathe and cause an infection that spreads, resulting in further harm, this is due to the physician’s neglect in providing the patient with continuing care instructions.
- Neglecting to follow expected and reasonable safety precautions. Doctors are trained in the expected safety precautions to take when treating patients. These precautions can range from the basics of using gloves to prevent skin-to-skin contact to how to prevent contagious germs from spreading.
Regardless of the circumstances, physicians must always exercise reasonable safety precautions, and if they don’t, they are subject to a medical malpractice suit if the patient is harmed.
- Failing to obtain an informed consent or improperly obtaining the consent. This is a tricky area for physicians. When faced with a patient who needs obvious medical care, like a surgery, but can’t consent to it themselves, the doctor can decide to go ahead with the treatment without consent or be faced with a negligence lawsuit for not providing the treatment.
However, this is a less common scenario. More commonly, failing to inform consent happens when the physician does not fully explain the nature of the proposed treatment or procedure, does not explain the risks and benefits to be reasonably expected, neglects to provide alternative procedures or treatments and their risks and benefits, and/or does not explain the consequences and benefits of not receiving the treatment or procedure in question.
Protect Yourself Ahead
Forewarned is forearmed, is the common adage. Knowing how simple it is to find yourself in a situation where you are faced with a malpractice lawsuit, it makes sense to take reasonable steps to protect yourself.
Of course, your medical malpractice insurance is the first investment you should make in your protection, but avoiding the claim in the first place is the preferred method. This way, you are not subject to a lawsuit and you have not harmed a patient unintentionally. To do this, arm yourself with knowledge through continuing education annually.
Only you can protect yourself from a medical malpractice lawsuit and now that you know the 7 most common reasons for them, you can take precautions to ensure you don’t make those same mistakes!