Determining what constitutes medical malpractice can be difficult. Basically, medical malpractice is when a doctor or other healthcare provider makes a mistake in diagnosis or treatment that causes harm to the patient, but this is not quite as simple as it seems. There are common misconceptions about medical malpractice.
Does a Bad Outcome Automatically Constitute Medical Malpractice?
No. Medical science is not yet at the point at which it can guarantee a total cure for all conditions. Despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, people can get worse or even die. If the doctor was not negligent, she is not liable. If the physician’s actions satisfied the standard of care (even if the patient suffered injury or got worse), the doctor did not commit medical malpractice.
What is the Standard of Care Medical Professionals Must Follow?
A medical professional must act within the accepted practices of the same type of professional with similar training who works in the same local medical community. These practices are known as the standard of care. You would not hold a nurse to the same standards as a surgeon, and a medical professional in New York City would not necessarily have the same accepted practices as one in a remote rural area.
For example, a patient tells her doctor she has a headache. The doctor performs an examination and asks the patient questions, then advises the patient to take over-the-counter pain medications and to come back if the discomfort continues more than a specified number of days. That night the patient has a brain aneurysm. Her family sues the doctor for not ordering a brain MRI.
If the standard of care for the first complaint of a headache does not include ordering an MRI, the doctor is not negligent, despite the unfortunate outcome.
If a Doctor Makes a Mistake, Does That Qualify as Malpractice?
Not necessarily. The law does not hold healthcare professionals to a standard of perfection. They are human, just like the rest of us. The law acknowledges that people make mistakes. The critical issue is whether the mistake violated the standard of care and caused harm to the patient.
What Kind of Harm Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice requires the harm to be quantifiable, which means you must be able to measure the damage. For example, if a nurse practitioner tells a patient she is pregnant, but then looks at the chart again, realizes he had the wrong patient’s chart, and corrects his mistake, the nurse practitioner is not guilty of medical malpractice.
No harm came to the patient as a result of the error. She may have been alarmed or upset for a moment, but that is not measurable harm. An example of measurable harm is when a surgeon cuts off the wrong leg.
What Do You Have to Prove in a Medical Malpractice Case?
To succeed in a medical malpractice claim, you must prove four elements:
- There was a doctor/patient relationship. If a person was giving emergency first aid outside of this type of relationship, the “Good Samaritan” exception shields the medical professional from a malpractice lawsuit.
- The doctor violated the standard of care; in other words, he made a mistake in diagnosis or treatment that is not within the generally accepted standards of practice for the local medical community.
- The medical negligence caused the harm.
- You can quantify or measure the damage.
Get Help with a Medical Malpractice Claim Today
Proving a medical malpractice case is difficult and has strict requirements, which is why you need knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyers on your side. Call the Montero Law Center today at 954-767-6500 to set up your free consultation and case evaluation. There is no obligation.