It's easy to think of extreme cases of medical malpractice – instances where a doctor operated on the wrong arm or leg or left a surgical instrument inside the patient. But as sensational as such cases are, they're memorable precisely because they're rare and unlikely. The majority of medical malpractice cases are not nearly as dramatic. In fact, sometimes it can be tough to tell if you've been the victim of malpractice at all. If you have doubts about whether a medical experience of yours was handled correctly, taking a look at a few of the more common types of medical malpractice may help you decide if you have cause for a complaint.
Failure to Obtain Consent
As a patient, you have the right to give informed consent to any medical procedure or treatment. Informed consent is a bit more complicated than regular consent. It doesn't mean only that you have the right to say "yes" or "no" to a particular treatment, but that you also have the right to know exactly what it is that your consenting to. That means that your doctor has to explain all of the risks of any potential treatment before you make your decision.
For example, if one possible course of treatment is surgery, your doctor should tell you not just how the surgery can benefit you, but also about the possible complications of anesthesia, or the chance that the surgery may not result in any improvement to your health. If you experience a complication that your doctor could have reasonably anticipated but failed to warn you of, that's malpractice. It could also be malpractice if your doctor withholds information about viable alternative treatments that may be safer or a better fit for you.
Medication is supposed to make you feel better, but the wrong medication can cause serious harm. Medication errors are shockingly common. It's estimated that there are about one million such errors each year, and these errors contribute to about 7000 deaths a year.
Medications errors can happen in a variety of ways, and it isn't always the doctor's fault. Nurses and pharmacists (both of whom can also be named in malpractice suits) can both be responsible for drug errors, perhaps by misreading the doctor's instructions or mistaking one medication for another. Other medication errors involve failure to cross-check the patient's previously prescribed medications for drug interactions, or over-prescribing dangerous or addictive medications. Many medications produce unwanted or unpleasant side effects – side effects alone don't add up to malpractice, but if a doctor advises you to stay on medications with side effects that are harming your health, that advice may rise to the level of malpractice.
Misdiagnoses or wrong diagnoses are the most common type of malpractice claim, and they generate the most money in malpractice lawsuit settlements and judgements. However, that doesn't mean that these cases are easy to prove or win. An incorrect diagnosis, or a diagnosis that takes a long time to arrive at, doesn't necessarily mean that malpractice occurred. Some diseases present with symptoms that are more commonly attributed to other diseases, and are misdiagnosed for that reason. There are also rare diseases that doctors may miss because they're simply not well known. These are mistakes that even very good doctors can make.
In order to prove malpractice for a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, you'll need to show that your doctor failed to take steps that other competent doctors in that field would have taken, and that those steps would have changed the outcome for you.
Without a medical background, it can be difficult to know whether your doctor should have caught your diagnosis sooner, whether your medication was mishandled, or whether the complications from your treatment were something the doctor should have foreseen and warned you about before you agreed. If you suspect that you may have been the victim of malpractice but aren't sure, a lawyer with experience in malpractice lawsuits can evaluate your case and offer you more info on whether or not you have a legal claim.