When you or a loved one has a medical procedure, whether it’s major surgery at a hospital or a minor procedure at your PCP’s office, you like to think you’ll be healthier and feel better when you’re medical appointment is over. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case that people leave a hospital or doctor’s office in better shape than they went in, and medical mistakes occur on a daily basis in the United States and around the world.
Every day, people put their lives in their doctors’ hands, and sometimes the medical mistakes healthcare professionals make are so serious, there’s no coming back from them. Sometimes medical mistakes change someone’s life so severely, that there’s virtually no way to recover from the medical malpractice, and sometimes, medical mistakes are so devastating that people die while under the care of the very person they trusted with their life.
Medical Mistake Statistics
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after cancer and heart disease. According to a study published by Johns Hopkins University online, medical mistakes kill more than 250,000 people every year. A study by Healthgrades found that an average of 195,000 hospital deaths in America were due to potentially preventable medical errors. It’s estimated that approximately 12,000 people die each year from unnecessary surgery.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that over 106,000 patients die each year because of negative effects of medication; many of those adverse effects could have been avoided had the proper medication and dosage been prescribed. Statistics also show that only 2% of people who suffer from medical malpractice ever file claims for compensation, and even fewer receive compensation for their injury, failing health, and pain and suffering.
According to a report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which is affiliated with the National Academies of Science and serves as a nonprofit organization devoted to providing leadership on health care, medication errors are, by far, the most common medical error with over 1.5 million people suffering injury from a medication error every year in the United States.
What, Exactly, Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is generally speaking any mistake by a medical professional that results in an injury or death. The American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) defines medical malpractice as follows: “…occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.”
Types of Medical Errors
Medical mistakes can take many forms:
- Failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis
- Misreading lab results
- Failure to order proper medical testing/labs
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgical errors (including wrong site surgery)
- Improper medication or dosage
- Failure to note contra-indications with medications
- Poor follow-up care
- Premature discharge from a hospital or surgical facility
- Disregarding or not taking thorough patient history
- Failure to recognize symptoms
- Failure to act quickly enough in a emergent medical situation
In order to receive a damage award in a medical malpractice claim, the patient must prove that medical malpractice caused the injury and that a value can be placed on that injury.
There are three types of damages in medmal cases: general, special, and punitive.
- General damages: These are the intangibles like loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and loss of future earning capacity.
- Special damages: These can have a specific amount of money tied to them such as medical bills, past and current lost wages, and even future medical expenses (although some estimating is necessary when calculating the amount that something will cost in the future).
- Punitive damages: In rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded when a medical professional knows he is behaving in a harmful manner that could cause serious injury or death to his patient.
Only about 7% of all med mal cases ever get to the courtroom, and the outcome is in favor of the plaintiff (the patient) only 21% of the time. Once a medical malpractice suit is filed, the average time it takes to be resolved is 27.5 months, which is a little less than two and a half years.