What Is the Difference Between Medical Negligence and Malpractice?
Experiencing harm at the hands of a trusted medical professional can create serious problems for your well-being. If your doctor made a mistake while treating you, you deserve compensation. Our team of medical negligence lawyers is there to provide guidance on how you can exercise your legal rights. The first step is to understand what defines medical malpractice and which conditions your lawyer must prove in order to argue your case successfully.
What Is the Difference Between Medical Negligence and Malpractice?
Some people confuse the terms “medical negligence” and “malpractice.” Both refer to errors made by doctors working in a professional context. However, there are subtle differences between the two terms that can impact your ability to win compensation from a doctor who treated you.
“Medical negligence” refers to a doctor’s failure to provide competent treatment that is appropriate for your condition. However, some patients get lucky, and not all medical errors result in physical harm. “Malpractice” occurs when medical negligence is the direct cause of an injury or an adverse condition. To win compensation from a doctor, you must have grounds for a malpractice case. In short, all malpractice cases concern medical negligence, but not all medical negligence leads to malpractice.
What Kinds of Medical Negligence Can Occur?
Medical negligence happens when a doctor does not fully fulfill his or her responsibility to a patient. In malpractice cases, you will hear the term “duty of care” used to refer to the standards of treatment that are generally observed within the medical community for each individual condition. By determining a standard of care that differs from condition to condition, the medical community is able to hold doctors accountable for their work while acknowledging that each patient’s case is unique.
A doctor’s duty of care always includes diagnosing conditions in a timely manner, following safety protocols, and providing the right treatments–defined as the treatments that most doctors would recommend under similar circumstances or which are widely accepted as appropriate for a condition. It also includes using basic common sense, for example, by removing all surgical instruments from a patient’s body after surgery.
Departures from the standard of care can involve a thoughtless error, a failure to observe a patient carefully, a failure to maintain a safe environment, or an accident while providing treatment. Some of the most common cases involve:
Misdiagnosis and Failure to Diagnose
Sometimes, doctors mistake one type of condition for another. As a result, the wrong treatment is prescribed. Having unnecessary surgery or taking the wrong medication not only allows the original condition to go untreated, but it can also create new health problems. In other situations, a doctor might fail to diagnose a condition altogether, delaying necessary treatment.
Failure to Follow Safety Protocols
Hospitals and their doctors are required to observe strict protocols regarding safety and hygiene. Failure to follow them could include not sanitizing a wound correctly or operating in a cluttered room. Hospital infections are a common issue that results from inadequate hygiene maintenance.
No one wants to think about the possibility that their surgeon might make a mistake, but it happens more than you might expect. Among the many accidents that can occur on the operating table, doctors have been known to amputate limbs unnecessarily, perform surgery on the wrong body part, and even operate on the wrong patient. However, not every surgical error is dramatic. Even small errors can take a toll on the patient’s health.
Birthing injuries are some of the most saddening examples of medical negligence. Errors made while overseeing childbirth have resulted in cerebral palsy, injuries, and even death.
When Does Medical Negligence Become Malpractice?
Medical negligence becomes malpractice the moment a doctor’s incompetent actions cause harm to the patient. If a doctor fails to diagnose a terminal illness from which the patient would have died anyway no matter what, this is an example of medical negligence, but not necessarily malpractice. In fact, insurance companies sometimes fight against “failure to diagnose” cases by arguing that the doctor’s error had no bearing on the patient’s outcome.
If, however, a doctor fails to diagnose a treatable illness that worsens from a lack of proper attention, the negligence and the harm together count as malpractice. In other words, patients can hold their doctors accountable for their damages, but without any damages, there is no case.
How Can You Prove That a Doctor Harmed You?
Find the Right Attorney
In any malpractice case, it is essential that you work with a qualified attorney. Medicine and the law are two very complex fields that intersect when questions of malpractice arise, resulting in lots of legal regulations. When you are looking for a lawyer, focus on finding one with ample experience in malpractice cases.
Get a Second Medical Opinion
In order to prove that your injuries are the result of malpractice, you will need a second doctor to testify on your behalf. As soon as you suspect something is wrong with your health, you should schedule an appointment to be re-examined by a new doctor. If the second doctor affirms your belief that malpractice occurred, he or she can act as an expert witness for you.
Treat Your Condition As Instructed
It is important for you to follow the second doctor’s orders regarding your condition. If you fail to take care of yourself at home, the defense could argue that your health deteriorated as a result of your own actions. While skilled lawyers can often overcome this argument with expert persuasion and ample evidence, your case will go more smoothly if you follow your prescribed treatments.
Collect Documentation of Your Injuries
One of the most important aspects of proving malpractice is providing evidence of your injuries. Your lawyer will help you obtain all the available medical records that will strengthen your case. If possible, you should show records of your condition from before the doctor saw you, after he or she treated you, and how your condition has digressed in the aftermath. Test results, x-rays, and other hospital records can all help you build a convincing argument.
What Other Conditions Must Exist for Malpractice?
In addition to a departure from the standard of care (medical negligence) and demonstrable damages to your health, there are two other conditions that must exist for a doctor to be held accountable for malpractice. First, it must be true that a physician-patient relationship existed between the two parties. Second, there must be a clear causal link between the doctor’s negligence and the damages.
How Much Is a Malpractice Claim Worth?
If all of the conditions for malpractice exist in your situation, you have a legal right to demand compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional Distress
The value of your claim depends in part on the severity of your damages and how much time you need to take off work. Payouts can get into the millions for patients who have suffered life-altering injuries. Getting adequate compensation is important for both your recovery and your sense of closure.
Our Medical Negligence Lawyers Will Defend Your Rights
Going to the doctor should not be a cause for anxiety. The legal system allows patients to demand compensation from incompetent doctors as a means of creating safer medial environments for everyone. If you have suffered injuries due to a doctor’s negligence, you deserve the best legal support available. To reach our team of medical negligence lawyers, contact Peter Angelos Law, today.