Medical malpractice: what it is, and why it isn’t reported more frequently
Only 2.9 percent of medical malpractice victims actually file legal claims, according to the Civil Justice Resource Group. And of that already small percentage, only five percent receive some sort of payment as a result of their claim, and those numbers and settlement figures are steadily declining.
Why such low numbers? Unfortunately, most people do not want to believe that they are victims, or even worse, that something terrible can go wrong at the doctor’s office or in a hospital.
Everyone wants to believe that patients go to the hospital to get better, not that patients might leave in worse health than before. But the disconcerting truth is that bad things can, and do, go wrong in hospitals quite frequently.
According to Joseph Stanley, managing partner at Stanley Law, there are three specific areas where hospital processes can negatively affect patients: failures of process and procedure, failures of implementation, and failures of actual treatment. And there is a good chance that one or more of these can go wrong for anyone.
“First, ‘process and procedures’ covers medical history, medical records and other coordination forms,” Stanley explained. “This is a chronic problem with medical records in general. It’s astounding how many errors there can be in medical records, electronic or otherwise.
“The second issue is with implementation. Assuming they get the right history and they made the right diagnosis… do they do it right? In other words, did you get the right medicine? Get the right treatment?
“The third is the actual professional service. Misdiagnosis is one part. Did they order the right preliminary tests? Did they make the right diagnosis? Did they evaluate the information properly? The other part is when you have surgery or procedures. Were those done correctly?”
Typically, patients who file medical malpractice lawsuits cite one or more definitive reasons why they choose to bring legal action: prevention, explanation, accountability and compensation.
People want to know why it happened, who is at fault and how they can prevent it from happening to others. Medical malpractice cases can be lengthy and complex ordeals for all involved, which makes them expensive. They often involve several different parties, voluminous paperwork and countless depositions. This, combined with the personal injury and suffering of the victim, typically leads to larger compensations being awarded.
“You only want to bring a lawsuit against the people who are responsible for the negligent care,” Stanley said. “Trying to figure out who that is, what happened and how it happened is not that easy. Because, typically, those who have that information are not that forthcoming, and sometimes, records are not that accurate about what exactly went on.”
The best way to make sure your case is clear and indisputable is to begin considering the lawsuit soon after the procedure and to adequately document any negative health effects you experience. “It is always good to keep notes [and] take videos and pictures to document the whole process,” Stanley suggested. “The proof of what has taken place makes it harder for people to dispute that it did not.”
In the end, this falls on the shoulders of the patient and their loved ones to not only prevent it from happening the first time but also to make sure it does not happen to someone else later on.
“Sometimes, the health care system grinds you down. So we, as patients, need to be aware of this and be our own best advocates,” Stanley said. “You know your body; you know what is going on. Never be afraid to ask questions or speak up if you don’t think something is going right.”