What is Medical Malpractice?
A good definition of medical malpractice is negligence by health care providers in which treatment is substandard and causes the patient harm, injury or death. In most cases involves a medical error that was either a negligent act or failure to act.
Negligence occurs at every stage in the treatment process and may involve many types of health care providers, including doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, physical therapists or dentists.
Medical errors in the U.S. is a leading cause of preventable injuries and death. According to the Diederich Healthcare 2015 Medical Malpractice Payout Analysis, insurance companies paid out $3,891,743,050 for medical malpractice claims in the U.S. in 2014.
Insurers paid out about 30 percent of those funds for medical errors resulting in death. Significant permanent injuries accounted for 18 percent of the payouts, major permanent injuries accounted for 17 percent, while brain damage, quadriplegia, and lifelong-care injuries accounted for 13 percent.
We Know Indiana Malpractice Law
Let the Indianapolis malpractice attorneys at Baker & Gilchrist have independent medical experts review your medical records. We’ll help you determine whether preventable medical negligence was the cause of your pain and suffering.
The attorneys at Baker & Gilchrist help families whose loved ones have been seriously injured by preventable medical errors in Indiana. Each set of facts is different. We work with medical professionals to evaluate your medical records to determine whether a preventable error occurred and a malpractice legal claim is appropriate. Learn more about how to hire a malpractice attorney.
With over 60 years of combined litigation experience, Rex Baker and Caroline A. Gilchrist have the legal skill and commitment to hold accountable health care providers who harm patients. We provide detailed answers to a series of questions in our videos. Learn more about how we can help you.
Common Types of Medical Negligence
At Baker & Gilchrist, we see many types of medical malpractice. Common preventable medical errors involve:
A recent study published in the American Journal of Gynecology determined that birth injuries caused by trauma occur in an estimated 26 out of every 1,000 deliveries. Larger infants are more difficult to deliver and more susceptible to birth injuries caused by the use of excessive force from obstetrical tools such as forceps or vacuum devices. Complications that are missed or untreated during pregnancy can often lead to birth injury.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traumatic brain injury contributes to 30 percent of all injury-related fatalities in the U.S. Approximately 2.5 million people sustained traumatic brain injury in a recent year, per CDC. A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is any bump or blow to the head or penetrating head injury that disrupts brain function. A brain injury can result from hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, due to a medical provider’s over-medication. Traumatic brain injuries range from brief changes in mental status to severely compromised function to extended periods of unconsciousness or amnesia.
Many anesthesia complications occur when a patient is not properly evaluated before a procedure or carefully monitored during and after a procedure. Patients should never die or suffer serious injury during surgery or immediately after because of adverse reactions to anesthesia. Anesthesia errors also include dosage errors, failure to intubate, delayed anesthesia delivery due to equipment problems, and negligent or improper administration of oxygen.
Doctors have a duty to reach a list of possible diagnoses that describe a patient’s symptoms, then to focus on ruling out the diagnoses that pose the greatest risk. A doctor who fails to follow these basic steps can miss a diagnosis, with serious consequences for the patient. Some of the more common medical errors we see involve failure to diagnose a heart attack or stroke. Timely diagnosis and treatment can mean the difference between life and death for patients with certain serious medical conditions.
According to a study published by the National Coalition of Health, cancer misdiagnosis occurs between 15 percent and 28 percent of the time. The study concludes that the causes of these many diagnostic medical errors include doctors who are strapped for time, medical records that are fragmented, pathology interpretation errors, missing important pieces of family medical history, and inflexible adherence to protocol on the part of medical professionals.
Hospitals are the most common institution named in medical malpractice suits likely due to the volume of patients they handle and the severity of the ailments these patients have.
Never events should never happen, right? This is unfortunately not the case. Never events include surgical errors such as operating on the wrong patient, performing surgery on the wrong body part, or performing the wrong operation. These mistakes can cause patients to undergo additional surgeries and prolonged time in recovery, leading to severe economical and emotional strain.
Emergency Rooms handle a large number of patients with a small amount of time per patient. The biggest malpractice problems that we see in these settings are related to delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis. These issues arise due to lack of knowledge about the patient’s history, failure to order the proper tests, the high volume of patients, and the high stress environment that is present in Emergency Rooms.
Why Do Errors Occur in Healthcare?
Many factors contribute to the incidence of medical errors. Some common causes of medical errors include:
Too often, a doctor’s inexperience or lack of training in a particular area can lead to serious harm for the patient, particularly in emergency room environments. This situation can occur when doctors fill in for each other and with “locum tenens” work, in which physicians work temporarily in hospitals or practices that are not the location in which they normally practice. Medical errors can also occur when patients are handed off at the end of a shift or transferred to a different area, and when physicians have minimal training and are not yet familiar with new medical innovations.
Sleep deprivation, particularly among interns, has been a cause of medical errors and a source of concern. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study involving interns who were subjected to 24-hour or more work shifts as part of their post-graduate training, as compared for those who were limited to 16-hour work shifts. Researchers concluded that limited work shifts and increased sleep decreased the interns’ failures in attention while treating patients.
Medication errors are a common medical error made by nursing staff. In a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers found that nursing medication errors consisted of: Administering medication at the wrong infusion rate (32.03%); giving the wrong dosage of medication (28.11%), giving medication at unscheduled times (14.37%); giving medication two doses at a time (11.11%); drug elimination (8.49%); and giving a patient’s drug to another patient (5.88%).
Electronic health records
Problems with electronic health records (EHR) can result in major medical errors. For example, CNS News reports on a case in which a hospital in Texas admitted, evaluated, and released a patient suffering from Ebola, a typically fatal, contagious, viral disease. The hospital claimed that the error resulted from a flaw in its EHR.
Many times, medical facilities located in rural areas suffer from a lack of funding and resources. The greatest shortcoming often is a lack of qualified professionals. Many times these facilities located in rural areas are staffed by Nurse Practitioners and their ER departments with “locum tenens” doctors.
Communication errors cause many errors in healthcare settings. This lack of communication can happen between nurses and doctors, errors in Electronic Health Records, and also between patients and staff. It is easy for information to be misinterpreted, misspoken, or even for the communication to not exist at all. The best way for you to combat these errors is by being aware of your health history and giving your doctor all of the information that you can on your condition. Check out our list of questions to ask your doctor before and after surgery for more information.
Reducing Your Risk for Medical Errors
Medical errors and malpractice can occur at any point in the healthcare system, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The Agency offers a number of suggestions to help patients remain safe in the system, including these tips:
Ensure that all of your doctors know about all of your medications.
Bring all your medications and your supplements to your doctor visits.
Inform your doctors of any allergies or reactions to medication.
Ask your doctor for information about your medications in terms you can understand.
Ask for written information on the side effects of medications you are prescribed.
If you are having surgery, make sure that you and your doctor agree on what will be done.
If you have concerns, speak up.
Ensure that your care is being coordinated by someone such as your primary care doctor.
Learn all you can about your condition and treatment by asking doctors and nurses.
Filing a Malpractice Lawsuit in Indianapolis
When you file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you are holding negligent medical professionals accountable and possibly preventing similar injuries to others in the future. Indiana has a system of accountability for injuries incurred due to the negligence of hospital staff. It begins with a medical review panel which gives an opinion as to whether the health care provider failed to follow the applicable standard of care. Learn more about How to File a Lawsuit in Indiana and How Long A Medical Malpractice Claim Takes.
At Baker & Gilchrist, our Indianapolis medical malpractice attorneys have over 60 years of combined litigation experience. We are happy to help you hold negligent health care providers accountable. We can present your claim for review by the panel and aggressively pursue the compensation you deserve in negotiations or a civil lawsuit.
Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund
There are no caps on the damages patients can recover in malpractice claims in Indiana. However, a cap of $250,000exists on the healthcare provider’s contribution. If your claim exceeds that amount, you may potentially recover up to $1 million more from the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund. The Indiana Patient’s Compensation fund paid out $138 Million dollars in judgements in 2014 alone. This fund has been in existence as a part of the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act since 1975. Its purpose is two-fold:
- To help keep doctors’ insurances costs down; and
- To help ensure that injured patients get the compensation they deserve.
Indiana Statute of Limitations
A statute of limitations is a time limit imposed by law for filing a lawsuit. In Indiana, the statute of limitations for medical injury claims is two years from the date the health care provider committed an act of negligence that led to the injury of the patient. However, minors ages six and under at the time of the incident, have until their eighth birthday to file a claim. There are also certain situations where the time frame may change such as if the malpractice was not discovered until a later date. More information can be found on our Indiana specific, Statute of Limitations page.
Do I Have a Case?
If you have been harmed by a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional, your best course of action is to consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Contact our accident and injury attorneys at Baker & Gilchrist. We offer a free case consultation, and we can advise you about whether you have a case and the damages you may be entitled to claim.
Rex Baker Caroline Gilchrist