When you or a loved one suffer injuries while under the care of a physician, you can end up not only physically hurt, but also confused, angry and frustrated—after all, doctors are supposed to heal, not harm. During this painful, emotional time, it is likely you have many questions, primarily whether you should sue for medical malpractice. An experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorney from Tronfeld, West & Durrett can answer your questions and help you determine whether a medical malpractice claim is right for you.
How Common Is Medical Malpractice?
According to healthaffairs.org there are from 44,000 to 98,000 deaths—and more than one million injuries—which occur each year as a result of preventable medical errors which occur only in hospitals. Because there are now so many outpatient clinics being utilized, the number of preventable medical errors could actually be much, much higher. An NCBI article found a “harm rate” in primary care of one per every 35 consultations, with medication errors being the most prevalent type of harm. The Office of the Inspector General released a report in 2010, which found that a hospitalized Medicare patient has a one-in-seven chance of injury or death resulting from a preventable medical error.
While we regularly hear that all physicians fear medical malpractice claims, and even stop being doctors because of the number of “frivolous” medical malpractice claims, there is simply no evidence to back this up. In fact, medical malpractice outcomes have a solid correlation with the actual quality of care as judged by other physicians. NCBI studied this issue, finding that physicians win 80 percent of medical malpractice trials with weak evidence of medical negligence, 70 percent of medical malpractice trials with a medium level of evidence of medical negligence and half of the cases which can show strong evidence of medical negligence. Clearly, physicians are not being plagued with frivolous medical malpractice claims.
What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed because a medical professional failed to adhere to accepted standards of medical care. There are many scenarios which could potentially lead to a medical malpractice claim, however the majority claims for medical malpractice will fall into one of the following categories:
- Improper diagnosis or failure to diagnose. If the illness would have been discovered by a competent physician, or if that competent physician would have discovered the illness and potentially made a different diagnosis (and that different diagnosis would have resulted in a more favorable outcome), then a medical malpractice claim could be applicable.
- Improper medical treatment. When a doctor treats a patient in a manner no other competent doctor would have, then there may be a basis for a medical malpractice claim. Similarly, if an appropriate treatment is incompetently administered, a medical malpractice claim could be warranted.
- Neglecting to advise the patient about the potential dangers of a medical procedure or prescription medication. Doctors must inform patients of any known risks related to a specific medical procedure or prescription medication. If the patient would not have taken the drug or undergone the procedure if he or she had properly been informed of the risks, the doctor could be liable for a medical malpractice claim. Specifically, any of the following could be considered medical malpractice:
- Surgical mistakes;
- Administration of unapproved experimental drugs;
- Failure to diagnose a medical issue;
- Misdiagnosis of a medical issue;
- Administering the wrong prescription drug;
- Broken bones in a child or baby from being dropped by a health care professional;
- Birth injuries;
- Injury from waiting too long in an ER, and
- Wrongful death.
What Must Be Proven in a Medical Malpractice Claim?
To prove medical malpractice occurred, all of the following must be shown:
- There was a doctor-patient relationship. This means you “hired” the doctor, and the doctor agreed to be your physician or surgeon. If you were being seen and treated by a physician, then the doctor-patient relationship obviously existed.
- There was negligence involved. You cannot file a medical malpractice claim simply because you are unhappy about your treatment—you must be able to show your doctor caused harm in a manner that another qualified doctor, under the same circumstances, would not have done. In other words, your medical care must have been reasonably skillful and careful and must not have deviated from the medical standard of care.
- The negligence of the doctor directly resulted in injury. Since those who seek a doctor’s advice or undergo a medical procedure are already sick or injured, it must be shown that the doctor’s actions—or lack of actions—directly led to injury.
- The injuries sustained from the negligence of the doctor led to specific damages. If you suffered no specific harm—even though the doctor clearly performed below accepted medical standards—then you cannot file a medical malpractice claim. Specific harm could include physical pain or injury, mental anguish, additional medical bills or lost work and lost earning capacity.
What You Can Do to Prevent Medical Errors
Patients—or their family members—must always be their own medical advocates and must always be vigilant, speaking up when advice or treatments just don’t seem “right.” Educate yourself on medical treatments and expected outcomes, so you will know what to expect. Hospital staff should never resist questions asked by patients or their family members as such questions can help prevent poor medical outcomes. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are extremely busy and can inadvertently miss something therefore you must:
- Always keep your health care team informed of all information related to your condition;
- Ask for information about medical procedures and medications in language you can understand;
- Talk to your pharmacist regarding prescription medications;
- Seek additional information regarding your medical condition as well as any recommended tests or treatments—do not be afraid to ask questions, and
- Double-check everything when you are in a hospital to prevent errors.
How Tronfeld, West & Durrett Can Help
If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, you could be seriously injured and unable to return to work through no fault of your own. You trusted a medical professional to do the best for you and your health, and that trust was betrayed. At Tronfeld West & Durrett, we can help you during this difficult time. We will sit down with you and go over the details of your medical malpractice claim, determining how the case should proceed. Contact Tronfeld West & Durrett today.