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Not all medical errors constitute medical malpractice

On Behalf of | May 14, 2024 | Medical Malpractice Defense |

The weight of responsibility placed on physicians is immense. They are entrusted with the well-being of every patient they attend to. This entails navigating complex diagnoses and treatment plans under constant pressure. Inevitably, errors can occur. It’s important to acknowledge that there is a distinction between unintentional and otherwise non-negligent medical errors and medical malpractice.

Medical errors encompass a broad spectrum of incidents. They can range from medication miscalculations to misdiagnoses or even surgical mistakes. Importantly, not all errors result in negative consequences for the patient. Sometimes, unforeseen complications arise despite following the recommended course of treatment.

The key factor in establishing medical malpractice hinges on whether or not a patient received care that meets the standards upheld by the profession and whether any harm occurred as a result of a deviation from that standard. This refers to the level of care a reasonably competent physician practicing in the same specialty and location would provide under similar circumstances.

When does an error become malpractice?

For an error to be considered malpractice, four elements must be present:

  • Duty: The doctor owed a duty of care to the patient when a doctor-patient relationship was established.
  • Breach of duty: The doctor veered off the accepted standard of care in diagnosing or treating the patient.
  • Causation: The doctor’s breach of duty directly caused the patient’s injury or harm.
  • Damages: The patient suffered some form of compensable harm, such as financial loss, physical injury or emotional distress.

Consider this example: A doctor prescribes a medication known to have a rare but serious side effect. The patient experiences this side effect. While this is an error, it may not be malpractice if the medication was the appropriate course of treatment and the doctor properly informed the patient of the potential risks.

However, suppose the doctor prescribed the wrong medication altogether, failing to consider the patient’s allergies or medical history, and the patient suffers harm as a result. In that case, this could be considered malpractice.

While medical errors are a reality in healthcare, not all errors amount to malpractice. Recognizing this distinction can empower both physicians and patients. Physicians can practice with a clearer understanding of their legal boundaries, while patients can make informed decisions about their care. Ultimately, doctors who are subject to medical malpractice claims without merit can benefit from personalized legal feedback while navigating such situations.

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