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Getting A Grip On Medical Malpractice Law

Feb 23, 2008
Medical malpractice law governs doctors or other medical professionals to prevent them from treating patients improperly or with negligence which results in injury or death. On a broad scope, legitimate medical malpractice is simply a claim that is brought against a medical or healthcare professional due to a failure to adhere to the applicable standard of care.

Medical malpractice may be due to the unreasonable delay in treatment of a diagnosed medical condition; failure to provide appropriate treatment for a specific medical condition; or failure to properly diagnose or the misdiagnosis of a medical condition. The laws that govern medical malpractice often differ from state to state. This means that the stipulations regarding lawsuits will also differ depending on individual state laws. However, the broad definition of medical malpractice is universal meaning that damages can only be recovered if the patient incurs injury or death. If the doctor makes a mistake but the patient sustains no harm, there are no grounds for a lawsuit and no damages can be recovered.

Yet another segment of medical malpractice law has to do with the subject of informed consent. A patient must give informed consent to a medical procedure in order to have it done. This means that he or she knows all of the dangers and benefits of the procedure, and consents to any risks taken. When the informed consent is not properly obtained, the doctor can be said to have performed medical malpractice even if the patient is not actually harmed by the procedure.

The rapidly evolving environment of healthcare compounds certain problems, making malpractice law even more vital. Medicine has evolved into more of a business of profit and this increases the pressure placed upon physicians to see more patients and make faster diagnoses all while being as efficient as possible. Physicians are only human and this hurried environment leaves doctors very susceptible to making errors.

Yet another problem with this new environment is that doctors and patients spend increasingly little time together, so that oftentimes, simply taking a patient history that is detailed enough to diagnose the problem is increasingly difficult. This, too, increases the chance for misdiagnosis or missing important symptoms. This makes medical malpractice law take an even greater role in improving both patient care and protecting doctors who have been erroneously sued.

While medical malpractice law protects doctors and healthcare professionals from frivolous or unfounded lawsuits, they do still occur. While the actual numbers for frivolous lawsuits are unknown due to insurance companies choosing to settle claims out of court, it is estimated that anywhere from 25% to as much as 50% of medical malpractice lawsuits that are filed and are determined to be frivolous are still paid. This is one drawback to allowing claims to be settled out of court; there is no checks and balances system. This action has led some doctors to counter sue patients whom they believe to have filed an unfounded or frivolous lawsuit.

Doctors need to carry medical malpractice insurance to protect themselves from being sued, whether a given suit is found to be of merit or not. Even the most careful of doctors can be sued for medical malpractice. If you have been sued, you need to notify your insurance company immediately, as they have resources to help you fight your suit if it is, indeed, unfounded.

Medical malpractice law at present has been deemed ineffective by all parties involved in many cases, and can leave both patients injured by malpractice and innocent physicians as victims. Many experts believe that because the attorneys on either side are the ones who profit regardless of outcome, this is where improvement needs to start. Many believe that a new system needs to be put in place where efficiency is the key, and both patient and physician rights are taken into consideration first and foremost. The current adversarial system, with one attorney pitted against the other simply to "win," may be the reason for the inefficient and often unfair current medical malpractice system.
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