Not every death is due to medical malpractice, and not every medical malpractice case leads to death. However, there is a fair amount of overlap, and medical malpractice can contribute to one’s deteriorating health or early death. Let’s take a look at the most common causes of medical malpractice cases.
Misdiagnosis can take the form of incorrectly diagnosing a problem, such as when someone’s gall bladder problems are written off as food poisoning or thyroid problems are dismissed as mental illness. Misdiagnosis can also occur when someone fails to diagnose something. For example, they ran tests like ultrasounds and failed to recognize an obvious sign of a serious problem. Or the person’s symptoms would normally warrant a certain diagnostic test that wasn’t performed. Failure to diagnose cancer or diabetes can lead to life threatening complications later.
Medication errors are a very common form of medical malpractice. The doctor might misspell a drug name, so the patient gets blood thinners instead of psychiatric meds. The hospital staff might give someone the wrong dosage. This can lead to death whether it is a painkiller or sedative. Pharmacists might misread the prescription or give someone too much. Think of the patient given 500 mg pills instead of 50 mg pills. They’re taking ten times too much every single time. Dangerous drug interactions fall under this category, too, when the pharmacist or doctor doesn’t realize that the new prescription shouldn’t be taken in addition to the other prescribed medication.
Anesthesia errors are so common and so severe that they are their own category. Giving someone too much anesthesia can be fatal. It can also leave someone in a coma or cause permanent brain damage. Simply failing to keep airways clear or not dealing with vomit can cause oxygen deprivation and lead to disability, too. Too little anesthesia can be the basis of a lawsuit, too, such as when someone wasn’t truly unconscious for the procedure or didn’t receive sufficient pain management. Note that this is not limited to surgery. A dentist who doesn’t offer adequate pain relief while pulling teeth is also harming the patient.
Surgical errors range from body horror to minor mistakes. The worst cases hit the news, such as when doctors remove the wrong limb or leave a tool inside someone for years. The less severe cases are far more common, and they can be fatal. Failing to sterilize equipment properly can cause life-threatening secondary infections, and these are not just bacterial infections. For example, failing to clean ports and probes has given subsequent patients HIV and Hepatitis C. Surgeons removing a large tumor but not removing the secondary tumors can result in the cancer spreading instead of being cured or forcing someone to go through a second surgery.
Doctors handling medical malpractice see quite a few of these cases. Roughly twenty percent of all medical malpractice cases are filed against obstetricians and gynecologists. Negligence during childbirth can result in fetal distress, excessive bleeding during delivery or child death. A failure to monitor the mother’s health during pregnancy could allow blood pressure problems to become life-threatening or result in a healthy child’s death. There is room for debate as to the proper course of action if a child is born with certain birth defects. For example, the doctor may be able to say that your pre-existing health conditions contributed to a child’s premature birth and associated health problems. However, cerebral palsy because the doctor used forceps incorrectly is almost always compensated for.
Updated: August 12, 2020