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What You Need To Know If You’re A Victim Of Medical Malpractice

This week Your Legal Corner discusses medical malpractice and you.   

The Greek philosopher Sophocles stated, "All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil.  The only crime is pride."  Unfortunately, centuries later, many of us are still trying to learn this lesson.

According to the Journal of Patient Safety, close to 440,000 people die each year due to preventable medical errors.  This makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer.

While no medical professional intends to cause harm, mistakes do happen.  How do you know if a medical mistake causing serious injury or even death to a loved one constitutes medical malpractice?  Review the situation with a qualified medical malpractice attorney and consider the following issues.

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is when a doctor, nurse or other medical professional provide substandard treatment that causes harm, injury or death to a patient. The substandard treatment can be because nothing was done or because an act was not done appropriately. 

Most medical malpractice claims focus on an error in diagnosis, medication dosage, treatment or aftercare.  Regardless of when the error occurred, the most common claim is when the medical professional was negligent in their care or conduct.

Medical Negligence

In order to establish a claim of medical negligence, there are certain elements that must be proven.  First, there must be a duty owed by the medical professional to the patient.  This is typically shown by the existence of a doctor/patient relationship for example. 

Second, the standard of care in the particular area of medicine at issue in that particular area of the country must be established.  Third, the medical professional deviated from that generally accepted standard of care.  An expert opinion from someone qualified in that particular area of medicine is typically required in order to establish these elements.

Lastly, there needs to be a connection between the deviation from the standard of care and the injury sustained by the patient.

Informed Consent

Before any medical treatment is rendered, a medical professional must advise a patient of all the potential benefits, risks and alternatives.  They must obtain the patient or their authorized representative's written consent before proceeding.  The level of informed consent required varies from state to state.

Communication

Medical malpractice claims are complex, expensive claims to bring against a medical professional.  It is obviously better for all involved to rectify problems before they result in harm.

The Journal of Patient Safety concluded that in order to address the high fatality rates, medical professionals particularly doctors needed to do a better job of fully engaging their patients and advocates by listening to them and their needs.

In general, studies have shown that doctors who educate their patients about their care and were interested in their patient's opinion were less likely to make mistakes and have medical malpractice claims filed against them.

William Osler, one of the founding physicians of John Hopkins Hospital often described as the Father of Modern Medicine, said it best, "The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease."

Victoria M. Dalton is a dedicated Family/Elder Law Attorney with the Law Offices of Hoffman DiMuzio. Email correspondence to [email protected] or call 856-845-8243.

Please note that Your Legal Corner was created to provide educational material about the law and is not legal advice.

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