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Back to the Basics: Understanding Medical Malpractice

Last week Forbes published a helpful primer that goes over many general, but critically important and practical topics related to medical malpractice. Considering the large number of people who may one day be affected by a medical error, it is helpful to re-visit some of the general issues that all Illinoisans should know about the legal ramifications of medical negligence.

For one thing, as the article notes, everyone should understand the full scope of the problem. Negligence by medical professionals is not a fluke occurrence–it is the third leading cause of death in the country behind only heart disease and cancer. Every 43 seconds there is another payout in some form–settlement or court judgement–as a result of a medical error.

Considering that a large number of errors go without legal consequence, this is a truly staggering number. According to recent estimates, even though about 200,000 people are killed every year as a result of medical malpractice, only 15% of personal injury cases relate to medical errors. This is in large part because of the expense and complexity of these legal cases. Proving malpractice can be challenging, because of the nuance in the law and the cost of hiring experts, etc. This is one of many reasons why it is important to have the aid, as soon as possible after an incident, of an experienced attorney. The legal professional can provide advice on the likelihood of success.

Avoiding Negligence in the First Place
Even in the best situations, where a significant settlement or judgment is reached, all victims would give it all back if the error itself could be reversed. Financial damages do not bring back a person who died because of an error or improve one’s health that was forever damaged because of a mistake.

So what can anyone do to lower their risk of being harmed in the first place?

The Forbes article discusses how proactive medical decisionmaking is the best that anyone can do to position themselves to receive adequate care. That means browsing the track-record of different medical facilities or providers when one has a choice (i.e. not an emergency situation). It also means doing a bit of research on one’s symptoms and preparing questions to ask the doctor. Questioning often spurs the professional to check something that he or she failed to check before.

Importantly, the story notes that it is important to “Speak up and advocate for your own well-being. If patients sense that something is wrong, they should tell-or ask-their healthcare providers. Although it’s important to trust your doctor or nurse, it’s also important to listen to your body … and use common sense.”

Many misconceptions about general medical malpractice issues still exist. Some worry that pursuing a case may result in higher medical payments or that a doctor may refuse to treat them after a case has begun. On the political side, some still believe that these lawsuits are connected to healthcare costs or that right of patients need to be taken away. Remember: these are all myths. The general principles of medical malpractice law are simple, holding medical professionals to the same standards of reasonable care that apply to everyone.

See Other Blog Posts:

The Challenge of Altered Medical Records in Malpractice Cases

Nursing Levels — Cutting Back Hurts Patients