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What Is the Difference Between Medical Error and Medical Malpractice?

Published on March 11, 2019

If you or a relative suffered an injury during a medical procedure, experienced negative side effects from medical treatment, or feel as though a medical professional failed to adequately treat a condition using reasonable care, it is possible you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. However, not every mistake a medical professional makes automatically constitutes grounds for legal action. Medicine is an inherently uncertain field. New conditions and diseases appear on a regular basis, and medical research refines and provides new treatments and cures.

While it is impossible to expect every medical professional to act with perfect skill and impeccable judgment in every medical situation, a reasonable expectation exists for the professional to meet the standard of care for the patient’s condition. Medical malpractice lawsuits are some of the most difficult personal injury lawsuits to pursue due to the high standard of proof required to prove medical negligence.

What Is a Medical Error?

A medical error is exactly what it sounds like: an error made in the administration of medical care of a patient, neither intentional nor the result of negligence. Many medical conditions mimic the symptoms of others, and some medical conditions do not manifest any noticeable symptoms for quite some time. Ultimately, determining the difference between medical errors and medical negligence requires expert witness testimony from other experienced medical professionals.

An expert witness can help determine if a medical professional’s actions fell in line with the standard of care for the given situation. If another reasonable and similarly skilled professional would have done the same thing in the same circumstances, it is likely the issue is an honest mistake rather than malpractice. Expert witnesses may also testify as to whether another reasonable, similarly skilled professional could have avoided the patient’s claimed injuries or illness in the same situation.

Defining Medical Malpractice

While some people may sustain injuries or contract illnesses due to medical errors, others suffer similar damages from actual malpractice. Medical malpractice is a failure to meet the standard of care for a given patient’s condition. The medical community reaches consensus for appropriate treatments by referring to clinical trials and scientific studies. A physician or other medical professional must have a very sound reason behind any decision to deviate from the standard of care, such as a patient’s allergy status or sensitivity to the typical course of treatment for his or her condition.

Medical malpractice comes in several varieties, and it is vital for patients to know how to identify medical malpractice as opposed to medical errors.

  • Misdiagnosis is a failure to accurately diagnose a patient’s condition, potentially allowing the condition to worsen and threatening the patient’s health and quality of life.
  • Delayed diagnosis, or failure to provide an accurate diagnosis in a reasonable time is another form of medical malpractice; however, unavoidable difficulties that delay the diagnostic process do not constitute malpractice.
  • Gross negligence, such as operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol or failing to account for details that even untrained individuals would have likely caught.
  • Medication errors, such as prescribing the wrong kind of medication, the wrong dosage, or filling a patient’s prescription incorrectly would all constitute medical malpractice, potentially implicating a pharmacy or other party as liable for the patient’s damages.
  • Surgical mistakes, such as operating on the wrong body part, leaving surgical instruments inside a patient’s body, or causing traumatic injury from negligent surgical technique.
  • Informed consent violations, which apply to cases in which a medical professional failed to fully inform a patient about the potential risks and benefits of a suggested method of treatment. All patients have the right to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

Ultimately, virtually all medical malpractice claims must pass through a review process from the medical board with jurisdiction over the defendant in the claim. The board will assess the facts of the claim and consult with relevant experts to determine if the claimant has grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

When to call Knapp & Roberts

If you or a loved one has been left injured after suspected negligent medical treatment,  you may be eligible to sue for compensation. Our Arizona medical malpractice lawyers understand the duty of care that medical professionals should deliver based on Arizona law and will be able to support you in your claim of breach of accountability. We are dedicated to improving the quality of Arizona medical care by holding providers accountable for the quality of their treatment. Call our personal injury lawyers in Phoenix, Arizona to review your claim free of charge. (480) 991-7677.

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The personal injury attorneys in Phoenix, Arizona, at Knapp & Roberts have the compassion and trial lawyer skills to tell your story to a jury. We will get to know you and your family so that we can help the jury understand what has happened to you and your family and how it has changed your lives. Obtain the compensation necessary for the injuries and losses you have suffered.