Answering this question puts us at Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman in a tough spot. While our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys have helped dozens of victims of doctor errors and medication mistakes, each of those cases involved unique circumstances. There is no single “right” way to respond after a health care provider or hospital has harmed a patient through negligence or recklessness.
Up to one-third of U.S. patients may suffer from medical malpractice each year, with the results ranging from unnoticeable to death. Some problems are severe and immediately apparent, such as the shockingly high number of wrong-site surgeries (e.g., removing the wrong leg) and the almost unbelievable persistence of surgical teams leaving sponges and other implements inside patients. Others, such as unsafe combinations of medications and missed diagnoses may only reveal themselves when the victim ends up hospitalized or dead.
While we cannot say what you, specifically, should do if you suspect that medical malpractice harmed you or a family member, we can discuss these three things that all people should do when it appears a health care error has happened:
Even if you think you can no longer trust doctors, nurses, pharmacists or hospitals, the most important thing to do after experiencing a medical mistake is to seek necessary health care. Infections can usually be treated, overdoses/poisonings can be countered when caught in time, and surgical errors can sometimes be repaired. When fully recovering is not possible, seeking care to prevent further harm still needs to stand as the first priority.
Family members who lose loved ones to suspected medical malpractice also need to concentrate on their emotional well-being. Feelings of anger and betrayal can become overwhelming, but the immediate focus should remain on honoring the deceased and keeping family ties strong.
The best summary of the medical malpractice problem in the United States remains in the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 special report To Err Is Human. Written to spur reforms throughout the nation’s health care system, the publication mostly shocked people by revealing the broad scope and high incidence of medical errors. Crucially, it includes this list of the most common types of malpractice:
Pregnancy, childbirth and extended hospital stays put people at particular risk for malpractice. Notice, however, that every kind of medical practice and procedure is prone to error, from misdiagnosing a potential fatal disease like cancer and dispensing the wrong drug to a patient to administering too much anesthesia and failing to share essential patient information with all care providers.
Health care providers should be open and honest about mistakes; especially ones that further harm sick and injured patients. Hospitals, doctors, pharmacists and other medical practitioners have recently gotten better about sharing information regarding errors, but getting clear answers as to why adverse health outcomes occurred usually takes input from numerous experts and close, expert review of extensive medical records.
Finding specialists to conduct those examinations and offer those opinions can prove difficult, not to mention expensive. Before committing to doing this, people who think they have fallen victim to medical malpractice need to decide whether it seems likely that a person or organization was negligent or reckless. Succeeding with a medical malpractice claim requires showing that the care or services provided did not meet generally accepted standards.
Standards exist in many forms, including statements of best practices published by professional societies and endorsed by government agencies; instructions for use that come with medical equipment and prescription drugs; and checklists used before, during, and after surgeries. Failing to adhere to any of those forms of guidance could constitute negligence. Hospitals and pharmacies can also be found negligent if they employ untrained and unprofessional staff members, fail to maintain facilities and equipment properly, or do not adequately oversee practitioners.
Recklessness in the area of medical malpractice can encompass things like issuing diagnoses despite not holding a medical license and performing surgery while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
Outside of having the wrong limb amputated or some equally egregious error, you probably cannot determine whether you or a loved one received medical care that met or exceeded recognized standards. You only know that the best outcome did not result. Sadly, not even the best medical care works every time. So how can you distinguish between malpractice and bad luck, or simple inevitability?
You can reach out to a medical malpractice attorney at Agee Clymer Mitchell and Portman. Lawyers in our Cleveland offices, as well as our other eight other locations across Ohio, will speak with you for free and can put you in touch with independent physicians and medication use experts who can answer your most complex questions regarding the incident that left you or your family member worse off than before.
You can reach us by phone at (800) 678-3318 or share your story with us online. Let us know how we can help.