When is a Medical Error Considered Medical Malpractice?

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals are all human and can make mistakes. Unfortunately, these mistakes have the potential to harm patients. But just because a patient has been harmed doesn’t mean that malpractice has occurred. 

In our post today, we will seek to clarify the difference between a medical mistake and medical malpractice. Of course, if you have a specific situation you’re wondering about – don’t hesitate to call our malpractice attorneys at (253) 272-5226.

Understanding Medical Mistakes 

As we’ve written about before, a medical mistake can happen at any point during your care:

  • Check-in
  • Triage/Assessment 
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment 
  • Post-treatment/recovery
  • Follow-up 

The overwhelming majority of mistakes are human errors. These could include accidentally prescribing an incorrect dosage or forgetting to note an aspect of a patient’s care. 

We should also mention that sometimes you may just experience a poor outcome. For instance, patients may suffer side effects from medications or not have hoped-for results from a surgical procedure. This doesn’t necessarily mean malpractice happened. All medical interventions contain risks. 

Negligence: The Essential Ingredient 

So, when does a medical error rise to the level of malpractice? A victim must demonstrate that the doctor was negligent. 

In personal injury law, there are many different ways to establish negligence. But when it comes to medical malpractice, we have a test. We ask: “would another doctor have provided the same level of care?” In other words, we work to identify what the standard of care is for a given treatment or procedure. Then we can determine if the doctor deviated from that standard. 

Mistake vs. Malpractice

While mistakes and malpractice may still seem similar, let’s end with an illustration. 

Patient A is complaining of illness. After evaluating, the doctor orders a range of tests. However, the patient worsens and ends up in the hospital. The patient had a rare bacterial infection that could’ve been caught earlier had the doctor ordered the correct test. However, the standard of care would have been to order the tests the doctor originally did. This misdiagnosis was certainly unfortunate, but it wasn’t malpractice. 

Patient B also goes to her doctor complaining of illness. After evaluating, the doctor believes that the best way to treat the patient is to recommend she drink a gallon of carrot juice every day. Several days later, the patient worsens and ends up in the hospital. Another doctor in the same situation certainly would not have prescribed a gallon of carrot juice – it is outside the standard of care. By failing to order standard tests or treatment, the patient could argue that she suffered additional harm. She might be able to file a malpractice claim. 

Working with a Malpractice Attorney 

It’s important to understand that bringing a claim forward against a doctor or hospital is complicated and difficult. You should absolutely hire a well-rated malpractice attorney to help build your case. 

Please reach out to our Tacoma malpractice attorneys for a free, no-obligation case evaluation today. 

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Angela Russell
Articles: 73

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