Medical malpractice causes frustration and fear for everyone involved. Whether you are the patient injured or made ill by a medical procedure, or you are the doctor accused of malpractice, you are faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the future.
Medical malpractice cases might seem as if they are becoming increasingly common, but this is not the case. There have also been changes made concerning the amount of award a victim can receive. Despite lawmakers taking action to control medical malpractice issues, there are still cases in which patients are injured and doctors are held responsible, and significant awards are paid as a result.
What are the Most Common Reasons for Medical Malpractice?
Some of the most common medical malpractice cases involve missed cancer diagnoses and heart disease. In a recent study published in the BMJ Open, Irish researchers looked at more than 7100 journal papers concerning claims of medical malpractice. Their goal was to review claims related to primary care physicians. More than 34 journal articles were included in their analysis of primary care malpractice, 15 of which were based in the United States, as well as British, Australian, French, and Canadian papers.
Researchers found the most common of medical malpractice claims was related to missed diagnoses. These claims made up between 26 to 63 percent of claims. Fatalities were the most common consequences listed, with as many as nearly 50% of the claims listed as fatality. The most common missed diagnoses related to cancer and heart attacks.
Second to missed diagnoses were drug errors. Researchers found that anywhere from 6 – 20% of claims included accusations of drug mistakes, with steroid preparation, anticoagulants, antibiotics, antidepressants, and antipsychotics making up the majority of issues.
Payouts are Not the Norm
In only about a third of the claims reviewed from the United States was there a payout to the victim. Approximately half of all UK claims resulted in compensation. This lack of compensation, despite the time and frustration invested in investigating a malpractice claim, leads many to believe that attorneys are the only ones who benefit in the end. Some call the system broken because it demands perfection from doctors and creates unrealistic expectations for patients.
Some doctors report that because of their risk for malpractice, patient care takes a backseat to their needs to practice “defensive medicine.” Fear of malpractice results in an increase in diagnostic testing, referrals, prescriptions, and avoidance of treatment. There is a movement within the medical community to encourage patients to question doctors about unnecessary testing because this lets both parties off the hook for malpractice. Doctors are able to make all possible recommendations and then patients are informed enough to make their own decisions about their care.
Even the Best Doctors Face Challenges
It comes as no surprise to many in the medical community that missed cancer diagnoses and issues with chest pain are the most common reasons for malpractice claims. Research shows these are some of the most difficult conditions to spot and many people who report problems to their doctors that could be related to these conditions are actually fine. A doctor’s most important task is determining which of the many patients they see complaining of symptoms related to cancer or heart attacks are actually facing a serious health crisis.
Experts recommend patients be attentive to the information their doctor provides and persistent if they believe there is a more serious problem than what a doctor initially diagnoses. There is no reason for patients to feel intimidated and everyone should take responsibility for his or her own health. There are many occasions when a wait and see approach is the right move, but patients need to know when to push their doctors for more, and doctors can avoid medical malpractice claims by paying attention to concerns and show patients respect.