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6 Types of Medical Malpractice (& How to Avoid Them)

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When medical professionals make mistakes, patients and their families have a right to sue. Medical malpractice lawsuits aren’t uncommon, unfortunately. There are a few common types of medical malpractice, but ultimately, any mistake a doctor makes that affects a patient negatively can be grounds for a suit. 

What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a physician, dentist, nurse, or other medical professional provides inadequate care that leads to the injury or illness of a patient. On average, about 20,000 medical malpractice lawsuits are filed each year. That’s only the reported cases, though. It’s estimated that only about 2% of medical malpractice incidents result in a filed claim. 

Types of Medical Malpractice

Malpractice lawsuits happen for a number of reasons. Some have more serious consequences, but all types of medical malpractice cases can end in expensive payouts. 

Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosing or not diagnosing an issue in time is one of the most common types of medical malpractice. Misdiagnosis can come in a few different forms, including:

  • Diagnosing the wrong conditions
  • Not diagnosing a patient at all 
  • Delaying a diagnoses

Misdiagnosing a patient can cause an illness to progress, which can lead to further complications or death. Lyme disease is a very common illness that’s misdiagnosed. Common symptoms include fatigue and headache, which are similar symptoms for many illnesses. 

Errors

You might not like to hear it, but medical errors are a reality of practicing medicine. After all, doctors are only human. About 30% of all malpractice claims are due to an error in medical care. These errors can be anything from prescribing the wrong medication, to surgical errors or anesthesia errors. 

Incorrect treatment

Even if the diagnosis is correct, if a provider gives the wrong treatment this could end in severe injury or death. If that’s the case, the patient or their family may sue anyone involved in the care of the patient. 

Birth injury

If a physician makes an error during the pregnancy, labor, or delivery of a baby, they could face a malpractice suit. Cerebral palsy is an example of a common birth injury that happens when a baby doesn’t get enough oxygen during and right after birth. 

Another example is improper monitoring during and before pregnancy which leads to unnecessary harm to the baby. Failing to perform a necessary C-section is also a common birth injury suit. 

Dental mistakes

In 2016 alone, there were about 1,000 malpractice lawsuits against dentists. About 85% of those claims were due to poor techniques that caused an undue injury. Errors that dentists make tend to be more costly than other doctors because dental mistakes can result in especially costly procedures over the course of a patient’s life.  

Failure to prevent or treat infection

Hospital infections happen at a fairly high rate. According to the CDC, 1 in 25 patients get an infection related to hospital care. These infections can cause other illnesses and even death for those who are immunocompromised. While not all of these infections can be prevented, some happen due to unsanitary conditions or negligence by providers. 

How to Avoid Medical Malpractice

No one expects doctors to be perfect every single second of the day, but there are mistakes that can easily be avoided. To ensure you’re avoiding unnecessary errors on your part, consider the following tips. 

Consider how your patients feel

Empathy can go a long way in making a patient feel more comfortable. When you take the time to think about how scared and confused your patients may be, you can provide more effective care. Communicating effectively and clearly with your patients will help them gain more confidence in you. 

Always get informed consent

Informed consent is extremely important, and if a patient doesn’t fully understand the risks of surgery, they could be making the wrong decision for their health. Take the time to truly explain and answer any questions your patient might have. And get consent in writing every time. 

Ask for help when you need it

Pride should never get in the way of you providing the best possible care to your patients. If you don’t know the answer to your patient’s questions or simply can’t give a fully confident diagnosis, ask someone who might. This is especially important for residents who are still learning. 

Record everything

If you go to court to handle a medical malpractice lawsuit, you’ll need to provide your lawyer with as much documentation as you can. Yes, you can’t document every single thing, or else you’d never have the time to see more than a few patients, but when you do take notes, do the following:

  • Make sure you’re writing is legible. Don’t abide by the stereotype that all doctors have terrible handwriting. If no one, including yourself, can read your writing, there’s not much point in keeping records. 
  • Sign every single entry so you have binding proof that you’re the one who worked with the patient. 
  • Record your insights, the decisions you made, and why you made them. Since you see so many patients, these notes can help you remember what happened and prove that you made the best medical decision for your patient.   

Why Does Medical Malpractice Occur?

Just because a doctor gets sued for medical malpractice, doesn’t mean they’re a bad doctor or a bad person. Doctors have an immense amount of pressure on their shoulders, and there are some legitimate reasons that errors occur. The four most common reasons medical malpractice occurs are:

  • Burnout. The medical field has one of the highest rates of burnout, which can lead to exhaustion and sleep deprivation. This can put doctors in a negative headspace and can cause unplanned errors. 
  • Lack of knowledge. Not even physicians can know everything. Rather than admit that and ask for help, some doctors make medical decisions that end up not being in the best interest of the patient. 
  • Honest human error. Sometimes, an honest mistake is made that unfortunately ends up harming someone else. 
  • Poor record keeping. Without documentation, legal battles can end up being a she-said/he-said situation. While malpractice fraud on the part of the patient is common, it does happen. That’s why you must maintain proper records on all patients. 

All Physicians Need Medical Malpractice Insurance

Malpractice insurance is a vital financial product for all physicians because it protects your income in the event of a lawsuit. Considering the average payout for medical malpractice is $329,565, you could be out a lot of money if you don’t have protection. 

Luckily, there are plenty of options when it comes to malpractice insurance. Start by understanding what malpractice insurance is and what it covers, then check out a few of our top insurers.