The word malpractice comes from the Latin malus, meaning evil, and practicare, meaning to practice. It doesn’t mean a doctor is bad, much less an evil practitioner of medicine. It means for some reason he rendered a treatment that had a disastrous effect on a patient. It may have been a lapse of judgment; a failure to spot an illness as quickly as he should have; or he might have made an out-and-out mistake. Not every misstep qualifies as malpractice, but if a practitioner’s negligence or inexcusable error results in the patient suffering serious and/or lasting harm, it constitutes malpractice.
There are numerous occurrences in which a patient might be so badly impacted by a doctor’s treatment that either he or his family considers pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit. But unless it involves error or negligence it is not malpractice. There are three other caveats that must be met for it as well
Is It Malpractice, Or Isn’t It?
Lucky is the person who can go through life without experiencing a medical treatment that failed to completely eradicate her symptoms. But if every patient who underwent a treatment or procedure that failed to live up to expectations was able to file a lawsuit, no medical practitioner would be left unaccused. Nor would there be enough hours in a malpractice attorney’s day to represent all the patients lined up at his door. No, in order for a treatment to qualify as malpractice, the final four requirements must be met.
Number One: In the Line of Duty
Doctors are dedicated to providing their patients with treatment that fosters their health and well-being while addressing their specific illnesses and conditions. The two operative words here are doctor and patient. There must be an established patient-doctor relationship. The setting is usually either the doctor’s office, a hospital, or during a tele-med visit. In short, if a doctor renders advice, it needs to be within professional parameters.
For example: A patient and a doctor are both attending a community barbecue and the doctor happens to casually mention a medication that worked well for one of his patients. Based on this conversation, the patient takes it upon himself to take the medication and has a bad reaction to it.
Yes or No?
- The conversation is taking place outside the boundaries of a patient-doctor relationship. Not only is it taking place in a casual setting rather than his office, the doctor is not recommending it as a treatment for the patient. So from an is it in the line of duty, or isn’t it point of view, no, the doctor is not recommending it to the patient, he is merely relating an experience that worked for someone else, so he is not acting in the line of duty
- If, on the other hand, the doctor recommended the treatment during an appointment with the patient, it meets the definition of duty. In this case, yes, the first requirement would have been met.
Number Two: Negligence or Deviation from Standard Care
The medical profession dictates that a doctor provide treatments that meet an established standard of care. If a doctor strays from this mandate, he is not living up to the expected standard. And if he skips any of the steps any other capable doctor would follow, either because he was pressed for time or experiences a lapse in judgment, he can be said to be negligent
Yes or No?
- A doctor prescribes a medicine that results in the patient suffering anaphylactic shock and having to spend a night in the hospital. He has not been negligent if there was nothing in the patient’s history to indicate this reaction, nor did preliminary testing indicate it, so no, he is not guilty of negligence.
- If on the other hand, he neglected to run a test that would have detected antibodies or didn’t read the history in which the patient listed similar medications that had brought on the reaction before prescribing the medication, the second pillar, negligence is established.
In this second case, the doctor was functioning in his official role and his action resulted in the patient’s suffering but in order to be malpractice, two more conditions must be met.
Number Three: Serious Consequences
In order to be considered malpractice, the treatment must have severe consequences for the patient. These can include serious illness, severe pain, permanent disability, loss of income, long-lasting suffering, and financial loss due to present medical as well as the cost of continuing care. The above case meets two parameters of malpractice if the doctor officially prescribed the medication and was negligent in doing so but it depends on whether the treatment has serious consequences for the patient
Yes or No?
While anaphylactic shock can be life-threatening and can lead to death since it closes the airways, causes a drop in blood pressure, and can interrupt the heart’s rhythm. In the above-cited case, the patient survived. So she would have no grounds for a malpractice suit.
However, if the patient’s heartbeat had been affected to the point of causing a fatal heart attack, her survivors would so far have a case of malpractice. So far because one final condition must be met.
Number Four: Direct Linkage
There must be a direct link between the doctor’s treatment and the patient’s injury or illness. If the injury or illness would have occurred even if he had never consulted the doctor, there is no link. But if it occurred either because the doctor misdiagnosed the condition or delayed in addressing it, it may very well be linked to his substandard care. So it can definitely be called malpractice for the four following requisite reasons
- The doctor did prescribe the medication during the course of an examination.
- It may very well not have occurred had he done his due diligence
- As a result, the patient did go into anaphylactic shock
- And in the extreme case cited, it led to her death
Other Situations that Constitute Malpractice
The above is an exploration of the specific circumstances of a specific case involving a prescription error. However, malpractice can and often does result in
- Birth injury
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgical errors
- Anesthesia overdoses
- Failure to receive critical treatment
Individuals who have experienced any of the above are indeed justified in seeking compensation. However, there are numerous steps that need to be taken in the course of pursuing a medical malpractice case. Expert witnesses who agree to give testimony must be contacted. Depositions must be taken. Medical bills, patient records, and other documentation must be gathered. All are needed in order to prove all the medical malpractice parameters have been met.
This can be not only time-consuming, but it can also re-open all the emotional wounds that were occasioned by the treatment. To add to the pressure, many states have a statute of limitations that if exceeded will void the case. Since the laws involved can be extremely complicated, a layperson can be overwhelmed in trying to navigate them. The most prudent step to take is to seek the help of an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can prove that the victim was injured as a result of medical error.
Other Medical Practitioners
Physicians are not the only medical providers who can commit errors that have severe consequences as anyone who has undergone poor dental treatment or had a pet misdiagnosed that led to its demise will testify. So yes, dentists and veterinarians can be sued for medical malpractice as well