Every year, approximately 200,000 patients die as a result of preventable medical malpractice or hospital negligence. The Society of Actuaries has estimated that medical errors cost the American economy at least $20,000,000,000 a year in lost productivity, additional medical care, and disability. Many of these patients and their loved ones will never see justice because the medical records in their cases are either incomplete, inaccurate or false, because civil litigation would be too risky and expensive to pursue, or because so-called “tort reform” efforts have restricted the ability of patients to recover fair compensation for injuries caused by medical malpractice.
Review by Harvard Medical School of the data collected by insurance companies in medical malpractice lawsuits has revealed that the majority of malpractice lawsuits are based upon one of four types of errors: misdiagnosis, surgical complications, birth/delivery mismanagement, and medication errors.
Missed, delayed, or incorrect diagnoses are at the root of one fourth of all medical malpractice lawsuits. Within this category of malpractice, most lawsuits arise from a physician’s failure to appropriately diagnose colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, cervical cancer, or skin cancer. Shockingly, most of these cases are result of two types of easily preventable errors: either the failure of the physician to follow basic, medically-accepted guidelines describing wind conditions like anemia, bleeding, or low hemocrit levels in the blood indicate that a person may have cancer, or the failure of the physician, the testing lab, the radiologist, or their administrative staff to appropriately report and follow-up on the results of tests, like biopsies, indicating the presence of cancer.
Surgical errors account for another fourth of medical malpractice. Although a number of surgical malpractice cases arise from substandard technique, like when a surgeon damages nearby organs, injures the spinal cord, or perforates internal structures, the bulk of surgical malpractice cases actually arise from failures to communicate. In particular, surgeons and their teams frequently have professional and cultural barriers that inhibit them from admitting uncertainty or for asking for help, and many hospitals fail to have appropriate protocols and checklist to ensure that meaningful and accurate information is exchanged among clinicians throughout the care of the patient. The treatment and care following surgery is of critical importance, and is often when preventable complications like paralysis of blindness occur because, due to the lack of adequate protocols and guidelines, surgeons, nurses, and other hospital staff often fail to follow-up on important post-surgery issues like abnormal test results or premature discharge of patients.
Birth / delivery medical malpractice cases, sometimes referred to as “birth injury” cases, are typically the result of an obstetrician’s failure to diagnose and monitor a high-risk condition in a pregnant woman, like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, or the obstetrician’s and hospital’s failure to recognize fetal distress or shoulder dystocia during delivery process and thereafter order an emergency cesarean section. In particular, a large number of obstetrical malpractice lawsuits arise from the failure of the obstetrician to appropriately monitor and evaluate the baby’s heart rate (often called the “fetal tracing”) to observe any unusual heart rate or episodes, like late or variable decelerations in heart rate.
Medication errors come in so many forms that it is difficult to summarize them, other than noting that virtually all of them arise from failures to communicate and failures to utilize appropriate protocols, checks, and double checks to ensure patients always receive the correct medication and correct dosage.
In short, most medical malpractice arises from the physician’s failure to abide by professionally accepted guidelines or the failure among multiple healthcare professionals to communicate adequately among one another.