Malpractice - What To Do When A Doctor Gets It Wrong

Not every medical error is preventable.  And despite taking every available precaution, you may still be exposed to medical error.  In the event you are harmed by a medical error, you may be concerned for your health, frightened by the possible consequences, angry at the mistake, or any combination of these and other powerful emotions.  In this state, you may not know what to do next or how to report the incident.  In the following article, InjuryBoard provides you with an easy to understand guide explaining what to do when you’re injured by a doctor’s mistake and how you can help prevent others from suffering in the same way.

Seek Medical Help Immediately

Your safety and health should always be your first priority in any medical decision you make.  If you have already been injured by a doctor’s negligence or mistake, report the problem to your doctor immediately and seek immediate medical treatment from a different physician.  If you identify problems early, another physician may be able to improve the medical error.

Seek out an appropriate specialist who can treat your specific injury.  Give the doctor your full medical history, including the circumstances surrounding the recent medical error.  Remember that medical records are the most important factors when determining a doctor’s error.  Make sure you give the new doctor enough correct and thorough information to ensure that the charts accurately record your state of health following the medical error.  To make sure your doctor fully understands your present condition and that these facts are properly recorded, be sure to share the “complete picture” by explaining what your health was like before, during, and after the accident, as well as your current condition.  Make sure your new doctor has access to any medical records that may impact his/her diagnosis and plan for treatment.


Know Your Injuries

Although knowing how to identify a medical mistake may seem like common sense, you should familiarize yourself with common medical errors.  If you know the types of medical mistakes that give rise to medical malpractice, you may be better equipped to decide whether you should report the incident. 
Generally, medical malpractice cases fall into several categories:

Doctor Mistake, No Injury to Patient – Not all medical errors cause injury to the patient.  For example, a doctor may prescribe the incorrect dosage of medication.  The patient then takes the wrong dose, has a temporary reaction, and reports it to the doctor or pharmacist.  If the error is caught before the patient suffers any serious or lasting injuries, then this would be considered a mistake on the doctor’s fault but would not be considered medical malpractice.  The lack of harm to the patient does not erase the fact that the doctor made a serious mistake.  In this situation, however, this would not be considered medical malpractice by the doctor because there is no lasting harm to the patient.

Doctor Mistake, Injury is Minor – This category encompasses situations in which a doctor misdiagnoses an injury (perhaps an ankle sprain) and then quickly corrects the misdiagnosis.  Like the no-injury scenario described above, the patient would not have a case for medical malpractice against the doctor.  Because the doctor quickly corrected the mistake, the patient suffered no damage.

Doctor Mistake, Serious Injury – Despite significant harm to the patient, sometimes it is impossible to prove a case of medical malpractice against a physician.  For example, an older patient with a heart condition may die after receiving the wrong medication.  After an investigation, experts may determine that although the physician prescribed the wrong medication, the incorrectly prescribed drug had the intended effect on the patient.  In this case, there is physician negligence (for prescribing the incorrect medication), but no causation (the mistake did not cause the harm to the patient).

Doctor Liability, Damages Are Small – Some states have enacted tort reforms that apply caps to the amount of money an injured patient can recover from a medical malpractice claim.  Under these caps, a patient may only be entitled to a $250,000 verdict.  While this amount of money may seem large, the patient must share that money with expert witnesses, investigators, and attorneys.  In the end, the patient’s financial recovery may be slight.  Attorneys may hesitate to take a case if it seems like the recovery will be negligible.  However, some patients are more concerned with filing suit as a matter of principle than as a means of financial recovery.  Sometimes lawyers are willing to take a case to help the client make such a statement.

For more information on medical malpractice recovery limits and tort reform, please read our article Tort Reform and the Effect of Medical Malpractice Caps.

Doctor Liability, Damages – In this category of cases the patient can prove that the doctor was negligent, and that negligence was the cause of the patient’s injury.  These are the situations most likely to end favorably for the injured party.  Attorneys are more likely to take cases they believe will be easy to prove.  When attorneys can easily prove physician liability, costs are lower and the client will receive more of the damage award.  In other words, less money will be deducted from the patient’s award.

CLICK HERE - for more information on common medical errors

Also, please read the InjuryBoard article How to Stay Safe and Avoid Medical Malpractice


File a Report

An average person does not know how to correctly file a report against a doctor who has committed medical malpractice.  Further complicating matters is the fact that each state has its own procedure for filing complaints against physicians.  Generally, you should file the complaint with your state’s medical board.  Each state has its own medical board and its own forms and requirements for filing complaints against doctors.

The act of filing a complaint against a physician triggers a state medical board investigation of the physician for possible disciplinary action.  Realistically, there is only an extremely small chance that your complaint will result in disciplinary action against the physician.  Because state medical boards are composed of doctors, they likely feel a personal and professional kinship with the people they regulate and may be hesitant to discipline another member of their own profession.

However, you should still file a complaint.  Complaints may alert future patients to the doctor of his suspect practices.  By making future customers aware of potential unsafe practices, you may save someone else from falling victim to medical malpractice.

In addition to filing a formal complaint, you may also rate your physician’s performance at RateMD.com.

This site allows users to browse rated doctors, search for specific doctor ratings, and rate your own doctor.  It is a helpful resource in researching potential physicians.

Remember that a complaint does not initiate a law suit.  If you wish to take legal action against your doctor, you should consult with a medical malpractice attorney who can evaluate your situation and provide legal advice.  If you feel that your doctor’s actions rose to the level of criminal behavior, contact the district attorney in the jurisdiction where your physician practices. 

CLICK HERE for a directory of state medical boards from the American Iatrogenic Association


Hire an Attorney

As we explained in the Know Your Injury section, an attorney is not necessary for every potential medical malpractice situation.  In some cases, the patient is unharmed, unable to prove causation, or incapable of receiving a large enough damage award to make a law suit worthwhile. 

However, an attorney may be able to help you file a law suit against the negligent physician.  When seeking your legal expert, the single most important factor is the attorney’s reputation.  If you hire an attorney that is notorious for settling claims for less than they’re worth, you are less likely to receive the money you deserve.  For more information on attorneys and the legal processes involved in medical malpractice law suits, please read our article Medical Malpractice and the Legal Process

Read the next article in the series:  Medical Malpractice and the Legal Process 

Contact an attorney in your area.