Medical Malpractice Defined

Medical Malpractice Defined

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Medical Malpractice Defined

Medical malpractice is defined as professional negligence toward a patient by a health care professional. Health care professionals who may be charged with medical malpractice include doctors, nurses, surgeons, and any licensed medical professionals such as chiropractors, physical therapists and the like. It is because of the occupational risk of medical malpractice that all health care professionals are required to maintain active malpractice insurance to offset the risk of potential lawsuits.

Medical malpractice may come on behalf of a treating doctor in the form of gross negligence, or in oversight in the diagnostic phase of examination. For example, if a patient's primary doctor grossly misdiagnoses a condition and fails to fulfill his or her legal duty to the patient to the best of his or her ability, he or she may be liable for medical malpractice. A treating doctor has a legal duty to a patient outlined in the Hippocratic Oath, which establishes a standard of care to which he or she must adhere. 

If the doctor fails to uphold the standard by either negligence or voluntary oversight, the patient may suffer quantifiable losses for pain and suffering, or lost wages. In other words, it is a primary doctor's legal duty to perform a diagnosis to the best of his or her ability, including observation of symptoms, as well as referral to the proper specialist should the need arise. For example, if a primary doctor's knowledge of orthopedic injuries is lacking, or if his facility lacks the appropriate diagnostic testing tools (MRI, X-Ray), it is his legal duty to refer the patient to the appropriate radiology/orthopedic specialist for appropriate diagnostics/treatment.

Medical malpractice may also come in the form of egregious error on behalf of a treating medical professional. Outlined in the Hippocratic Oath, it is the duty of all medical professionals to do no harm to their patients. This standard of "harm" is weighed against the intent of the procedure and its results. For example, a surgical incision may be considered harmful and disfiguring, though if part of a life-saving surgery or biopsy, the standard of care outweighs the damage of the initial incision. It is only through dereliction of legal duty as a medical professional that a health care provider may be sued for medical malpractice and found negligent. Unforeseeable accidents are covered under the provider's malpractice insurance but are seen as less severe offences.

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