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What is a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

The medical malpractice and accident lawyer at the Doan Law Firm explains how malpractice can involve health care workers as well as physicians

Most people will associate “medical malpractice” with physicians. However, any health care worker whose conduct is not consistent with the generally-accepted standards of care of his or her profession can be held liable for any injuries that may occur if the worker deviates from those standards.

Medical malpractice occurs when:

  • A medical professional assumes responsibility for some aspect of a patient’s care. The patient can be an inpatient or an outpatient, all that matters is that the professional was directly involved with the patient’s care.
  • There is a “standard of care” that is defined by what a medical professional with similar training would be expected to do in a similar situation.
  • The medical professional fails to meet that standard of care without a valid reason for doing so. This is usually referred to as a breach of the medical professional’s duty that is owed to the patient.
  • The patient suffers some harm or injury that is a direct consequence of that breach of duty.

Medical malpractice does not require a direct interaction with a patient. For example, a lab technician may mishandle a lab specimen and cause an incorrect result to be reported that influenced how the patient was medically treated or a hospital worker could reveal confidential patient information to someone that has no real need to know that information.

There are also several situations that may, or may not, rise to the level of medical malpractice.

  • Defective surgical implants

There are numerous reports of prescription drugs having side effects that cause more harm to a patient than the condition that the drug is supposed to treat. Normally, this results in a personal injury claim against the drug manufacturer rather than the health care provider. If, however, the provider knew about the drug’s side effects and still prescribed the drug, or prescribed medications that interact with each other and result in harm to the patient, medical malpractice may have occurred.

  • Defective surgical implants

Artificial hips or knees have improved the quality of life for thousands of patients. It is also a fact that many such devices have manufacturing defects that were not known about when the device was implanted. Unless the physician who implanted the device knew that it was potentially defective, defective implants usually result in a lawsuit against the manufacturer rather than the health care professional.

  • Improper or unconventional therapy

This category usually involves a clinical psychologist or a behavior therapist who uses a mode of therapy that is unaccepted by the professional community at large or is inappropriate for the patient’s diagnosis. Although therapists and counselors are not required to use established therapy techniques, any therapy that has not been thoroughly documented by peers may lead to undesirable outcomes and/or expose the patient to harm.

Physicians who employ unconventional or clinically-unproven treatments or surgical procedures that result in harm to a patient may be guilty of malpractice if a physician with similar training and experience would have selected a more established plan of treatment.

  • Failure to observe, document, and report

Doctors spend far less time with patients than do other health care providers such as nurses, therapists, and other “direct patient care” workers. If a health care professional makes an observation that may indicate a developing complication or a change in the patient’s condition, that health care worker must communicate their findings to the treating physician. Failure to observe, document, and report could expose the professional to a charge of malpractice.

What should I do if I suspect medical malpractice?

If you suspect that you or a family member have been the victim of medical malpractice, your first step should be to gather as much information you can access regarding the circumstances of the suspected malpractice. Once you have this information, you should contact a medical malpractice and accident attorney to arrange a consultation and review of the options that may be available to you.

An experienced medical malpractice and accident lawyer will sit down with you to evaluate the available facts and your reasons for suspecting malpractice. In many cases the malpractice may be obvious and your lawyer may suggest a medical malpractice lawsuit.

There are cases, however, that will require the opinion of an impartial health care provider regarding the circumstances that led to your suspicions of malpractice. Your attorney will “foot the bill” for this opinion regardless of whether the consultant believes that malpractice has occurred or if there are no valid reasons that would support a malpractice lawsuit.

Finally, always remember that there are time limits for filing a malpractice lawsuit. Since these time limits (statutes of limitations) vary from state to state, it is strongly advised that an attorney be consulted as soon as possible after the alleged malpractice event occurred.

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