What is the Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence?

Everyone has heard the quote by Alexander Pope “To err is human…,” and no one can argue with that. To be human inherently means that you will make errors. Most of the time, errors can be corrected. But, in the medical profession mistakes can have serious ramifications and even be fatal. When someone experiences a mistake made by a medical professional, he/she may consider initiating the legal process to assign accountability and receive compensation. You will need to understand and have some clarity as to the difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence. This article addresses what those differences are and examples of each.

Definition of Medical Professional

A medical professional is a physician, surgeon, nurse, technician, anesthesiologist, pharmacist or other provider of medical care. When looking at an error in the medical field, you can include any medical professional as listed here or others involved in a procedure or treatment. The American Academy of Professional Coders defines healthcare professional as:

“Within the context of coding for services, a qualified healthcare professional is an individual who is qualified by education, training, and licensure/regulation and/or facility privileges who performs a professional service within his or her scope of practice, and independently reports that professional service. Scope of practice will vary by provider type and state regulation.”

Standard of Care

Not every bad outcome in the medical field rises to the level of medical malpractice. There are many situations where medical professionals cannot save a life or prevent a bad outcome. And we cannot expect doctors and other providers, regardless of their experience or skill level, to always be able to amend our maladies. However, we do expect medical professionals to perform at a certain level of proficiency and professionalism (called “standard of care”). When standard of care is not met, resulting in an injury to the patient, that patient may seek damages for medical malpractice.

Doctors have a duty of care that is based on what a prudent person in the same position and with the same knowledge would have done in that same situation. As you might think, proving that the standard of care was not met can be difficult, which is why you should hire an experienced attorney as soon as possible if you believe you or a family member is the victim of lack of care.

Medical Malpractice

The main difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence has to do with intent. Malpractice has an element of intent that negligence does not. When a medical professional fails to provide a patient with the accepted standard of practice and causes harm, injury and/or death, there is intent. Said another way, when the medical provider knew he/she should have done something to treat the patient but failed to do so, and knew that failure might result in harm to the patient, there is intent. It was not intentional to harm the patient but it was intentional because the provider knew that by doing so created a situation where the risk of harm was present. This is medical malpractice.

Some examples of medical malpractice include the wrong procedure being performed and surgery performed on the wrong body part. For example, look at a situation where a doctor decides to forego an expensive diagnostic test because the insurance company won’t pay for the test, and the doctor knows he/she would bear the financial burden for the test. If this is a situation where a prudent medical professional would order the diagnostic test, then there is malpractice.

Medical Negligence

Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional fails to provide the standard of care that could result in causing harm to a patient. Medical negligence is looked at as a “mistake” that took place. Some examples of medical negligence include unnecessary surgery, failure to understand or recognize symptoms, and surgical errors. Another example of negligence is when an assistant in surgery accidently leaves a sponge inside a surgical wound. There was no intention to harm the patient but the action was below the standard of care.

Only an experienced medical malpractice attorney is qualified to evaluate the case based on the facts to determine whether a medical malpractice lawsuit is required or a medical negligence lawsuit would be better given the set of facts in your case.

Discerning Between the Two

The difference between medical malpractice and medical negligence is less about what actually happened to the victim as it is about the intent of the action or inaction. The harm was done nonetheless, but to prove negligence or malpractice the intent has to be established and proven. Again, as we stated, we are not saying there was malicious intent to cause harm. Instead, the harm was caused and could have been prevented if alternative measures were taken, and the medical professional knew so. There are a limited number of ways to prove negligence or malpractice, but all of them are based on whether the doctor exercised the proper standard of care and intent.

Speak to an Experienced Lawyer Today

At The Doyle Law Offices P.A., we understand the devastation and trauma you experience in a medical negligence or malpractice situation. We care about what happened to you and want to help you seek justice from the medical provider or medical facility that caused you harm. If you think you or a family member has been the victim of medical negligence or malpractice, call us today at  (984) 235-1067 or fill out the contact form below to schedule a consultation. Act quickly because there is a short window of time to initiate the process. We are here to help and serve clients across Wake County including Wake Forest, Raleigh, and Cary.

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