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Malpractice - What It Is and What It Isn't

Primum non nocer, translated as "first, do no harm," is often cited as part of the oath that physicians take upon their graduation from medical school. While not actually a part of the Hippocratic Oath that is sworn by nearly 100% of graduating medical school students, the notion of a physician "doing no harm" is 

recognized as one of the basic tenets of medical practice. Unfortunately, harm does come to some individuals at the hands of those in the medical field. This harm is commonly known as malpractice.


What Malpractice Is

Malpractice occurs through the negligence of a health care provider, in which the treatment provided falls below the accepted standard of care and causes injury or death. In fact, negligence on the part of a health care provider is responsible for over200,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, making malpractice the third leading cause of death in the nation.

Common types of malpractice include:

  • Incorrect medication or dosage
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Failure to diagnose
  • Failure to order proper testing
  • Failure to consider patient history
  • Misreading or ignoring laboratory results
  • Lack of informed consent
  • Failure to attend to a patient
  • Surgical errors
  • Premature discharge
  • Treatment that is incorrectly performed
  • Treatment that fails to meet established care standards

It's important to note, also, that malpractice is not limited to a single incident from this list; a malpractice case can include any number of the items listed here, and is not only limited to physician errors. Other medical personnel, hospitals, laboratories, therapy providers, and other medical care facilities can also be responsible for errors leading to malpractice.

What Malpractice Is Not

For all the things that constitute malpractice, there are instances in which malpractice is not a factor in injury or death.

While we look to doctors and other medical personnel to heal the sick, there are instances in which treatment is not successful. A patient whose condition worsens despite treatment - even if the condition is considered treatable - may not be a victim of malpractice. Likewise, a patient with a terminal illness would have a difficult time establishing malpractice if the attending physician provides care within the established standards set forth for treatment.

In order for malpractice to be determined, it must be established that the doctor or other healthcare provider acted with carelessness or negligence while treating the patient.

A physician who cares for a patient with reasonable skill and within the accepted standard of care for the illness in question cannot be held accountable if the patient's condition does not improve or takes a turn for the worse.

How to Determine if You've Been a Victim of Malpractice

Malpractice exists if a medical provider causes injury through negligence, and it can be difficult to determine if negligence has occurred. A bad outcome is not proof that negligence is a factor in a worsening medical condition.

If, however, you suspect malpractice, your first step should be to contact an attorney experienced in handling medical malpractice claims. Your attorney will review your claim to determine if malpractice took place, and may recommend you seek an opinion from another medical provider to establish how deep and varied the negligence may be.

Each malpractice case is unique, but each will require that your attorney is able to show that your injury resulted in disability, loss of income, pain and suffering, hardship, or significant medical bills. Malpractice resulting in wrongful death requires that your attorney establish that carelessness or negligence contributed to death.

While the results of malpractice are damaging to families and individuals, an experienced attorney can help you to gain compensation for the pain and suffering caused by a negligent medical provider.

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