Medical Negligence vs. Medical Malpractice: Understanding the Difference

Medical Negligence vs. Medical Malpractice

You put your trust in medical professionals to provide you with the highest standard of care. But what happens when that trust is broken? That’s when the conversation shifts to medical negligence and malpractice.

While rather close from a distance, there’s a world of difference between these two terms. This guide will walk you through what separates them so you’re better prepared to deal with either case should you or someone close fall victim.

1. intent

With negligence, you’re typically dealing with an unintentional lapse in judgment or an honest mistake. It’s not that the medical professional wanted to cause harm. They simply deviated from the accepted standard of care.

A good example? A nurse accidentally administers the wrong dosage of medication to a patient. While this is undoubtedly a mistake, it’s likely due to a simple mix-up or misreading of the instructions rather than a willful disregard for the patient’s well-being.

Negligence comes with ramifications. According to this report, it costs the U.K. government up to USD$1.2 billion per year in settlements, compensations, etc. But it doesn’t end with a money trail. China reported that about 36% of deaths between 2004 and 2013 resulted from medical negligence.

The cost of medical negligence can be steep. But not as steep as medical malpractice.

Malpractice implies a level of intentional disregard for the standard of care. Like a surgeon who decides to operate while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The medical professional is aware that their actions (or inactions) could potentially cause harm, but they proceed anyway. This could stem from negligence, recklessness, or even malicious intent.

Medical malpractice costs an average of 250,000 lives per year, third only to heart attacks and cancer.

Medical Malpractice

2. Legal ramifications

In cases of negligence, legal action isn’t always inevitable. Depending on the severity of the situation, corrective measures or disciplinary action against the healthcare provider might suffice.

However, in case you choose the legal route, you may need to get help in proving medical negligence. The entirety of your case rests on this, so focus on getting the right legal minds on your side. They can help you make a case and fight for the appropriate compensation.

While going the legal route in medical negligence can be optional, the tables turn when it comes to malpractices. If you can prove that the provider consciously disregarded the standard of care and caused you harm, you may be entitled to compensation.

About 8 out of 10 medical malpractice cases go to trial in the U.S. However, in most, the physician prevails.

3. Degree of deviation

In terms of negligence, the deviation from the accepted standard of care is considered relatively minor. This could be a simple mistake, a lapse in judgment, or a failure to follow a specific protocol to the letter. A doctor who forgets to order a routine follow-up test for a patient is one example. Another one is if a nurse fails to properly document a patient’s allergies. In both of these cases, the deviation is adjudged as relatively minor.

Malpractice, on the other hand, typically involves a more significant departure from established practices and standards. Say, a surgeon who operates on the wrong body part. On the one hand, a dentist might have extracted the wrong tooth. Here, the deviation from the standard of care is so egregious that it can’t be written off as a mere mistake.

4. Burden of proof

When it comes to negligence cases, the burden of proof lies with you, the patient. What does this entail then? You need to demonstrate that the healthcare provider deviated from the accepted standard of care and that it directly resulted in harm or injury to you.

For instance, a doctor misread your test results because of fatigue so they accidentally prescribed the wrong medication. It resulted in adverse side effects. To prove negligence, you’d need to show that the misreading of the results fell below the expected standard of care and that the incorrect medication led to your harm.

The bar rises even higher on malpractice cases. Here, you need to prove that the provider deviated from the standard of care and caused you harm. Not only that; you’ve also got to show that they’re aware of the potential for harm and consciously disregarded it.

For example, a surgeon operated on you without obtaining your informed consent. If you want to prove malpractice, you’d need to show that the surgeon knew they were supposed to get your consent, understood the risks of proceeding without it, and yet chose to operate anyway.

In closing

Medical negligence and malpractice – they’re both a threat to any person’s well-being. Knowing their differing nature can help you protect your rights; receiving the care you deserve is another unmissable benefit. If your health and safety are your topmost priority, sometimes holding healthcare providers accountable is necessary to uphold that standard.

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