Preventable medical error is the sixth biggest killer in America and injures thousands of patients every year. Research has shown that few patients who are injured ever file a medical negligence lawsuit, and many Americans are unaware of the extent of medical errors, which cause about 98,000 deaths in a year. Medical personnel and staff across the industry can be at fault for medical negligence – not just physicians.
Frequency of Claims and Incidents
A 2011 report indicates that 39 percent of injuries associated with medical negligence claims result in significant physical injury, and 26 percent result in death. The following injuries are also associated with medical negligence claims:
- 17 percent minor physical/emotional injury/breach of consent
- 15 percent major physical injury
- 3 percent no adverse injury
Despite the significant number of patients who suffer from death, significant injury or major injury, researchers found that only 21.5 percent of patients who were operated on in error or who received operations on the wrong site filed a claim or lawsuit.
State medical boards are supposed to discipline doctors who consistently violate standards of care and do not put patients’ safety first. However, two-thirds of doctors who make 10 or more medical negligence payments are never disciplined at all. “Never events,” such as operating on the wrong patient or wrong site, continue to occur at an alarming rate.
Method of Settlement
Many claims are settled by negotiation between the claimant and the insurer, and when an indemnity payment was made, a little more than half of the lawsuits were settled in mediation. Other claims are resolved through alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration, mediation, or private trial.
The amount paid to claimants typically increases with the age of the claim. Claims that were closed within one year of the report date, for example, will have a lower paid indemnity than a claim that is closed after two years.
Who is Responsible for the Malpractice or Negligence?
Nearly half of all hospitals in the United States have reported a disciplinary action to the National Practitioner Databank. The Harvard School of Medicine estimates that about 18 percent of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their care. Furthermore, hospitals commit as many as 40 wrong site, wrong side, or wrong patient procedures every week.
Hospitals may be responsible for employee negligence. The responsible party depends largely on whether or not the doctor, nurse or staff member had control to prevent the negligence. Often times, a doctor will perform a surgery at a hospital but is not an employee of the hospital. If the doctor, or someone under his supervision during the surgery, commits an act of negligence, the doctor may be held responsible. However, this depends on whether the doctor was present and whether the doctor could have prevented the negligence.
Pharmaceutical companies can also commit errors, and more than 1.3 million people are injured annually. Nearly 100,000 people die every year because of medication mistakes, which results in more annual deaths than breast cancer or AIDS. Since patients are not trained in medications and what to look for, it is the pharmacist’s responsibility to ensure that all aspects of each prescription are correct.