Difference between medical malpractice & medical negligence

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Each time we visit a doctor, we put our complete trust in them and expect them to take care of us and help us with our ailments and issues. In spite of the trust and belief, we have in the doctors and other medical professionals, there are chances that things can go wrong.

Whether you are visiting a dentist for a routine dental appointment or a physician for a checkup or a surgeon is performing surgery, mistakes can happen. These unwarranted mistakes can be accounted for a case of medical malpractice or medical negligence. Medical malpractice and medical negligence are not the same, each has different consequences and outcomes.

What is medical malpractice and medical negligence? What is the difference between malpractice and negligence?

All medical practitioners whether doctors or nurses etc. owe a duty to take care of their patients. This breach of duty of care by any medical practitioner or hospital is known as Medical malpractice.  An element of intent is there in medical malpractice cases which is not there in medical negligence.

When a medical practitioner is aware of his duty to take care of his patient and treat him but does not fulfill his duty even after being aware that not fulfilling his duty would be harmful or injurious to the patient, it is known as medical malpractice.

The medical practitioner may not have the intention to harm the patient; however still knowingly takes some steps or decision being well aware that the patient’s health and life could be at risk.

Below mentioned are some examples of medical malpractice:

  • While treating a patient when a doctor or hospital chooses to not do a very important medical test only because the test is not covered under the patient’s insurance policy.
  • During childbirth, if a patient suffers umbilical cord prolapse and the doctor decides not to perform a C section despite knowing the dangers associated. He decides to try for a normal vaginal delivery undermining the severity of the situation and due to this the child dies or suffers brain damage, this is a case of medical malpractice.
  • When a surgeon who has to perform an important surgery is unfit to perform it due to lack of sleep or because he is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but continues to do so and ends up making some serious errors, it could be considered as a case of medical malpractice.

Unlike medical malpractice, cases of medical negligence do not involve intent.  In instances where a mistake committed by the medical practitioner while treating a patient ends up harming or injuring the patient, it is called medical negligence.

It was the negligence of the practitioner that resulted in the harm, it cannot be considered as medical malpractice there was no intention of harming the patient knowingly.

Below mentioned are a few examples of medical negligence:

  • When a patient is undergoing surgery and the anesthesiologist ends up administering an incorrect dosage. Due to the incorrect dosage, the patient suffers major liver damage. This failure to provide proper care and medication is a classic example of medical negligence.
  • A patient suffers chest pain and visits the emergency room however the attending doctor fails to correctly diagnose coronary artery disease (CAD). The patient is discharged and sent home where he ends up suffering a massive heart attack and dies. This is medical negligence.
  • Misdiagnosis is a form of medical negligence. There are times when doctors are unable to diagnose the right reason for the problem faced by the patient and treats you for some other ailment. For example, treating a patient for flu when he is suffering from Lyme disease. Failure to diagnose which results in inaccurate treatment or no treatment at all can also be termed as misdiagnosis.

Difference between malpractice and negligence

In case of negligence, the intent behind the doctor’s actions or decision is not on purpose or knowingly. A doctor may end up prescribing a medication without knowing that a harmful drug reaction could occur in the patient.

The doctor intended to help the patient or cure him however, he unknowingly prescribes medicine which is not suitable to the patient.

When a medical practitioner wishes no ill or bad for the patient and has no intent to harm, the case is of negligence. However, this negligence can become dangerous and harmful if the practitioner fails to recognize certain elements or their accidental actions lead to threatening situations for the patient, it is a case of medical negligence.

Settings and scenarios for medical malpractice can be similar to medical negligence. However, the main difference between malpractice and negligence is that in the case of malpractice medical professionals are aware of the likely consequences of their actions and yet they decided to go ahead with their decision.

Malpractice is a severe offense and can lead to revoking of the medical practitioner or provider’s license and right to practice. On the other hand, negligence cases are more common and done face such harsh punishment as the practitioner had no intention of harming the patient and had unknowingly caused harm or injury.

It is very difficult to differentiate between medical malpractice and medical negligence, only experienced medical malpractice lawyers who have the experience and knowledge can study the facts and determine whether the case of medical malpractice or medical negligence.

Is medical negligence criminal or civil?

Medical negligence by medical practitioners or providers can be both criminal and civil? A civil case of negligence is registered in case of mere carelessness or any action which cannot be described as reckless or grossly negligent to make it criminally liable. When the plaintiff seeks financial compensation for injuries or damage suffered due to the negligence of the medical practitioners it is a civil case.

However, there is instance of gross negligence which are very severe, the state or federal government may pursue criminal charges against the responsible party. Incidents of medical manslaughter which lead to the death of the patient are treated as criminal cases.