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What Is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Negligence?
Sometimes people use the terms “medical malpractice” and “medical negligence” interchangeably when discussing personal injury cases. While the terms are closely connected, they are not exact synonyms. Medical negligence is one component of medical malpractice. On its own, negligence does not necessarily create grounds for a malpractice lawsuit.
Understanding Medical Negligence
Every person has an obligation to conduct himself or herself with a certain duty of care that changes depending on the role. Property owners must maintain their premises, drivers must follow the rules of the road, and so on. For certain professionals, the standard level of care increases depending on context. The law holds health care professionals to a very high standard of care because they impact the health and wellness of others on a daily basis.
The medical industry typically defines the medical standard of care as the same level of care that another similarly skilled, trained, and competent health care professional would use. For example, if parents sue a pediatrician for medical negligence, the court would not compare the pediatrician’s actions with a neurosurgeon’s – they would find another pediatrician.
Medical negligence occurs when health care professionals fail to meet the medical standard of care. While negligent behavior is not something you ever want to see from your health care provider, it does not automatically mean you can sue. To file a malpractice lawsuit, plaintiffs must go beyond negligence.
Types of Medical Negligence
Several types of medical negligence may precipitate a medical malpractice claim. Some of the most frequently referenced acts of medical negligence include unreasonable:
- Diagnostic errors
- Surgical errors including operating on the wrong body part or leaving an instrument behind
- Prescription drug and anesthesia errors
- Failure to properly treat conditions
All health care providers are susceptible to mistakes. The mistake only reaches a level of medical negligence and possible malpractice when another, similar physician would not have made the same mistake.
Proving Medical Malpractice
To prove medical malpractice, a plaintiff must use evidence to show several elements:
- A doctor/patient relationship was in place at the time of the incident, which establishes a duty of care
- The doctor committed an act of medical negligence
- The doctor’s act of negligence caused the patient’s injury
- The patient has suffered an injury and losses related to the incident
Without an injury and specific damages, an act of medical negligence does not equate to medical malpractice. Acts of malpractice may include the following examples:
- A physician fails to arrive at a cancer diagnosis, even though the patient’s profile clearly illustrates possible signs of cancer. As a result, the patient does not receive a diagnosis until months after the symptoms began. When the patient finally receives a diagnosis, the tumor has metastasized and is threatening the patient’s life.
- A nurse hands a surgeon the wrong patient file. In surgery, the surgeon fails to double-check the information before beginning the procedure. When the patient wakes up, he realizes the surgeon performed the wrong operation. Now, he must deal with the pain/losses of an unnecessary procedure and undergo another operation for the initial problem.
Anytime a health care practitioner makes a careless mistake and a patient suffers, the practitioner has committed an act of medical malpractice. In malpractice claims, patients can fight for the right to fair compensation for their losses and for justice in the medical system. Sometimes holding negligent physicians accountable for the harm they cause prevents others from suffering the same injuries.
What to Do When an Act of Negligence Turns into Malpractice
If you suspect that your physician has not treated you with the appropriate level of care, ask for a second opinion from a similarly skilled physician. When those acts of negligence turn into serious and life-altering injuries, illnesses, or complications, take further action. Talk to a local medical malpractice attorney in Kansas City about your case. Your attorney can help you understand the nuances of state malpractice laws, and take the first steps in filing a malpractice claim.