Every day, mistakes happen in thousands of different ways. Even the world’s greatest minds occasionally make them. Mistakes teach us new ways of doing things that push us forwards as a society. However, there are situations when mistakes might have catastrophic consequences. This is especially true in the healthcare sector.
As patients, we depend on our doctors, and we put our trust in them. Unfortunately, if they make a mistake while providing us with medical care, the consequences are often difficult to detect until they become severe.
Medical errors account for over 10% of all deaths in the United States, making them the third biggest cause of death in the country, according to a 2016 study conducted by researchers from John Hopkins University. This means that over 250,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors, while many more sustain non-fatal injuries.
If you become the victim of medical negligence or malpractice, the distinction between these two legal terms may not matter to you, but you can be sure it will matter to your attorney.
What Is Medical Negligence?
To understand the difference between negligence and malpractice, you first need to understand what negligence means in the context of personal injury law.
Negligence is a legal term used in personal injury law to denote that a person or an organisation caused you harm through their carelessness or recklessness. The ultimate goal is to hold that person or organisation accountable for the losses you sustained as a result of their actions.
To prove that you were the victim of negligence, you and your personal injury attorney must show that:
- The person or organisation in question had a legal duty to keep you safe;
- They have failed to fulfil that legal duty;
- As a result of this failure, you have been injured.
In the case of medical negligence, the person you’re accusing has to be a medical professional – doctor, nurse – or medical institution – hospital, clinics and other medical facilities.
Medical professionals and institutions have a legal duty to provide a certain standard of care to their patients. In medicine, negligence is defined as a medical professional’s failure to uphold this duty of care adequately. The standard for what is considered adequate is established by comparing their actions to those of their peers.
Typically, this failure entails making an error that causes injury to the patient. For instance, leaving surgical instruments inside a patient after a procedure is completed would be considered negligence. Although the doctor did not do it on purpose, it must be recognised as a major error with serious repercussions.
In order to show that you were a victim of medical negligence, your attorney must show how the actions of this particular medical professional or institution fell short of the accepted medical standard of care, meaning they did not act in a manner consistent with how other medical professionals or institutions would have acted in a similar situation. You can learn more about this by visiting UKLaw.co.uk.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
The extent to which a medical professional’s actions deviate from the accepted standard of care can assist in determining whether the harm was caused by medical negligence or malpractice.
The main difference between the two is intent. Medical malpractice occurs when the medical professional or institution knowingly breached their duty of care. That means that they knew their actions would put their patient at risk. The element of intent does not necessarily mean that they wanted to harm the patient but that they intentionally acted with carelessness or recklessness.
One example would be if a doctor does not perform some of the required tests to confirm their diagnosis and proceed with treatment. This results in misdiagnosis and incorrect treatment, which causes harm to the patient.
Medical malpractice is a graver charge than medical negligence, and your attorney’s goal would be to prove that the medical professional or institution was intentionally reckless.
To summarise, medical negligence refers to an unintentional mistake that causes a patient harm. Medical malpractice refers to a situation when a medical professional or institution knowingly and intentionally didn’t adhere to standard procedures and the accepted standard of care.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Medical Negligence or Malpractice?
If you suspect that you might be the victim of medical negligence or malpractice, you need to prioritise your health, so the first thing you’ll need to do is consult another doctor. They might be able to undo the harm caused by the first doctor, and the change in diagnosis or treatment will be on your medical records, which can serve as proof if you want to claim compensation.
The second step is to request a copy of your medical records. It’s your right to do so, and you don’t have to offer any explanation. If you intend to file a lawsuit, do not reveal your plans to the medical professional or institution in question. It’s best to avoid discussing this with anyone but an attorney.
The next step is to contact an attorney that specialises in medical malpractice. Because of the complexity of these cases and the fact that you’ll most likely still be undergoing medical treatment, it’s not practical to think that you can represent yourself.
Most attorneys that handle such cases offer a free consultation to evaluate and discuss your claim. You can bring the medical records and tell them what happened. Since the first consultation is free, it’s best to speak to several attorneys. Hearing multiple opinions will benefit you. Note that they’ll most likely work on a contingency fee. This means that you don’t have to pay their fee out-of-pocket. They will receive payment from your settlement only if they win your case.
Once you decide on an attorney, they will handle all aspects of your case so you can devote your attention to your health.
Your attorney will probably ask you to document your experience since you might forget details that could help your case. They’ll want you to write down everything you can remember from when you first went to get medical care. This includes your symptoms, details of doctor’s appointments, dates, times, names of medical professionals, what they said to you, the tests they ran and the treatment they prescribed.
They’ll also want you to write down how this affected your health and your life. For example, you were forced to take time off work, or you became unable to handle household chores and had to hire help.