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What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?

Tennessee attorney at Gilreath &Associates discuss the most common types of health care mistakes behind medical malpractice lawsuits

By definition, medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed when a doctor, nurse or other medical professional fails to provide proper healthcare treatment. Typically, most medical personnel and hospitals make a limited number of mistakes. However, even given the small sample size, certain errors are more likely to show up than others are.

5 common causes of medical malpractice

There are several different kinds of medical malpractice ranging from misdiagnosis and injuries during childbirth to injuries during surgery and prescription of medications. Continue reading for a brief explanation of each.

Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis are the largest culprits for medical malpractice complaints. When doctors misdiagnose a condition (...or fail to diagnose a serious illness), patients face the chance to miss treatment that could prevent serious harm or death.

It can be hard to prove medical malpractice based on misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. However, if a skilled/competent doctor (under the same conditions) would have not made a diagnostic error, the treating doctor may be liable.

Childbirth Injuries

There are a number of fetal injuries that can be caused by medical mistakes. These include brain injuries (namely cerebral palsy and seizure disorders), fractured bones and nerve damage leading to Erb's and Klumpke's Palsy.

Other common medical errors that occur during childbirth include:

  • Failure to anticipate complications (...usually due to an oversized baby tangled umbilical cord)
  • Failure to respond to fetal distress
  • Failure to order a cesarean section
  • Incompetent use of forceps or a vacuum extractor

Medication Errors

  • The Institute of Medicine estimates that 1.5 million people in the United States are harmed by medication errors each year, which are estimated to cost over $3.5 billion in lost productivity, wages and additional medical treatment. Medication errors can occur in numerous ways—ranging from the prescription itself to the administration of the particular drug(s). Patients can be harmed by medication when: The doctor prescribes the wrong medication

  • The doctor prescribes to treat a misdiagnosed condition

  • The right drug might be given to the wrong patient (in a hospital setting)

  • The most common medication errors involve dosage
    • Incorrect dosage on the prescription
    • The prescription is correct, but an incorrect amount is administered
    • If the medication is administered using equipment, a failure could cause a large dose of medication over a short period of time

Surgery Errors

Medical malpractice during surgery can typically occur in two forms: in the operating room and during post-op care. During surgery, a surgeon may negligently puncture internal organs, operate on the wrong body part or leave surgical instruments inside the body. During post-op, nursing staff may be negligent in administering care, which can lead to serious complications and infection.

Anesthesia Errors

While surgery errors are scary, anesthesia errors are usually more dangerous. Even the smallest error by an anesthesiologist can result in permanent injury, brain damage or death. Ways anesthesiologists can commit medical malpractice include:

  • Failing to check a patient's medical history
  • Failing to inform patients of the risks involved if they fail to comply with preoperative instructions

Moreover, there are anesthesia errors that can occur during surgery itself. These risks include:

  • Administering too much anesthesia
  • Not monitoring vital signs
  • Improper patient intubation
  • Use of defective equipment

*Food for Thought*

It's important to remember the bar your situation has to meet in order for it to be considered medical malpractice. Just because you're not happy with a course of treatment (or its outcome) doesn't mean medical malpractice has occurred. There is a specific legal definition to medical malpractice. This means negligence in some way (...i.e. the doctor was not reasonably skillful or competent, thus resulting in harm).

Medical malpractice injuries can be avoided through careful planning by medical personnel. If you believe you or a loved one was injured because an error or negligence on the part of doctors, nurses, surgeons, anesthesiologists or a hospital, please schedule a free consultation with medical malpractice attorneys at Knoxville's at Gilreath & Associates today.

We can help you determine if you have a case, and discuss options for pursuing compensation. In addition, you can also browse our blog and Tennessee Personal Injury Guide to find other information.

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