When you visit the doctor, you’re likely thinking about your illness or your injury more than anything else. Even if you’re just getting an annual check-up, you expect the medical professional you meet with to evaluate your health and give you any advice or medications you need.
One thing that probably isn’t on your mind-malpractice. But unfortunately, malpractice does happen.
In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine printed a study of physician malpractice. The researchers looked at malpractice claims that were filed between 1991 and 2005 against physicians who have malpractice insurance. The study found that about 7.4% of doctors face a malpractice claim annually and that those claims occur more often for doctors in certain specialties.
Are you curious about how malpractice varies between medical fields? Below, you can discover common malpractice claims associated with specific medical professionals.
Likely because of the complicated nature of their work and the likelihood for error, surgeons face many malpractice claims. In the 2011 study described above, surgical specialties made up the top five most common fields for malpractice. Those specialties were neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, and plastic surgery.
Examples of surgical malpractice include the following:
- Damaging a nerve
- Performing the wrong operation
- Leaving surgical equipment inside a patient
- Operating with equipment that is not properly sterilized
Many surgical malpractice cases stem from surgical errors, but it’s important to note that not all surgical errors constitute medical malpractice. The surgeon must have made an error that most other similarly trained and experienced physicians would not have made in the same situation.
This medical specialty involves administering medications that make patients temporarily unconscious or unable to feel pain. These medicines are given during surgery or when a patient needs to block pain in a specific part of the body, such as when a woman receives an epidural during labor.
Anesthesia medicines are powerful, and doctors in this specialty must take great care to give the correct dose and monitor the patient’s vitals while he or she remains medicated. Anesthesia malpractice can involve errors such as:
- Preventable nerve or tissue damage
- Wakefulness or awareness during surgery (incorrect anesthesia dose)
- Death of the patient
Anesthesiologists most often work with other doctors. For example, they put a patient under general anesthesia while other doctors perform surgery. So in many cases of anesthesia malpractice, the victim and his or her legal team must prove that the anesthesiologist (rather than another doctor) violated the standard of care.
Many complications can occur during a pregnancy, particularly during labor and delivery. If a physician handles those complications in a way that doesn’t meet the standard of care, tragic consequences can result. The mother or the child could sustain serious injuries or even die.
As with surgery, obstetrics is a complex field of medicine, and obstetricians have many malpractice claims filed against them annually. These claims include errors such as failure to warn a patient of risks associated with a procedure or failure to diagnose a condition that affected the pregnancy or delivery.
Keep in mind that an injury that occurs during delivery, either to the child or the mother, may not always mean that malpractice occurred. The victim would have to prove the injury or other complication was preventable because most other obstetricians would have avoided the same outcome.
In an emergency room, doctors must make many quick decisions to provide the best possible care to their patients. If they fail to order tests that could lead them to a correct diagnosis or recommend inappropriate treatments, those actions could constitute malpractice.
You should know that emergency physicians are subject to a different standard of care than doctors in other specialties. For example, if a patient comes to an emergency room complaining of headaches, the doctor may perform only basic diagnostic tests and recommend pain medications.
If the same patient visited a specialist, such as a neurologist or oncologist, that doctor may request more specialized tests. Both doctors may have been acting within the standard of care, even though they treated the patient differently. Because of these distinctions, expert witnesses can be very important in emergency malpractice cases.
Doctors are not the only medical professionals who can face malpractice lawsuits. Nurses must also meet a standard of care when they treat and observe patients. Any time they violate that standard, they could be held liable for their mistakes or their failure to act.
Nursing malpractice can occur in many forms, including the following examples:
- Giving the wrong medication or the wrong dose of a medication
- Injuring a patient while performing a procedure
- Not telling a doctor when he or she notices a potential problem with the patient
Most nursing malpractice cases must also take into account who the nurse’s employer is (such as a hospital) and who the supervising physician was on the case. In many situations, these parties may also be held responsible for the malpractice.
Malpractice is a serious matter. Consult with a malpractice attorney if you believe you or a loved one received treatment that did not meet the medical standard of care.