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If you experience a personal injury at the hands of a healthcare provider, you may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. But experiencing medical negligence can be detrimental to your mental and physical well-being, and it can take a long time to see the settlement you deserve. The brunt of the responsibility to avoid malpractice lies with your healthcare provider. Still, you can take steps to protect yourself when you’re seeking medical care. One myth about medical malpractice is that it’s the consequence of a doctor making a mistake. In reality, the standard is higher than committing a medical error. A medical professional must deviate from the “standard of care” and make a decision that equally qualified colleagues in the same specialty would not reasonably make. Having a bad experience after a procedure or surgery is unfortunate, but negligence is required for medical malpractice to be a consideration. With preparation, you may be able to lessen the risk of a medical malpractice case.

Surveys have shown that most Americans trust their doctors, which is a positive thing. Medical professionals provide lifesaving care, and having a good relationship with your provider can make healthcare decisions less stressful. Even in the best situations, barriers can increase the risk of misdiagnosis and injury. The average physician spends 13 to 16 minutes face-to-face with a patient, which may not be enough time to communicate all of your concerns.

Three of the most common causes of medical malpractice lawsuits are failure to diagnose, negligence within the differential diagnosis process, and complications from treatment and surgery. Failure to diagnose is relatively straightforward. If a doctor makes an incorrect diagnosis and someone is injured, they may be negligent if the patient can prove an expert with similar qualifications would not have made the same mistake. Physicians are not expected to be perfect, and it is assumed that they will occasionally err in judgment. But if there’s negligence involved, someone has been injured, and a medical professional deviated from the standard of care, medical malpractice has likely occurred.

Another example of medical malpractice involves differential diagnosis, or the process doctors use to determine what’s wrong. Suppose you go to your doctor with excruciating stomach pain. They are expected to ask thorough questions, examine you physically, and run tests to narrow down which medical condition is most likely to be the cause. If you’re dismissed without necessary examination and later suffer injury due to the doctor not diagnosing properly, this may be medical malpractice.   

Ways To Protect Yourself From Malpractice 

Research Ahead of Time: You won’t be able to diagnose yourself as a layperson, but researching your symptoms and treatment options ahead of your appointment can help you prepare for a conversation with your doctor about the problem you are experiencing. It may also give you the wording to help push back if you feel like you’re being dismissed by the healthcare professional examining you.  

Be Honest: Do what you can to help your physician correctly diagnose you. It is essential to be upfront about how long the symptoms have been occurring, and it is also necessary to be forthcoming about your habits and risk factors like alcohol and drug use. Having a complete picture can help a doctor make a correct diagnosis. 

Ask Questions: Given that most doctors have a long list of patients waiting and may only spend a few minutes with you, your appointment could end without asking the questions that you have. You can be kind but firm and let your doctor know that you need additional clarification, even if they are pressed for time.

Arrive Early: Because medical offices often run on very tight schedules, being late to an appointment could mean you are sacrificing time you’d get to spend with your practitioner. Make a habit of arriving at appointments 10 to 15 minutes early to fill out paperwork and get settled before your doctor is ready for you.

Record The Appointment: In most U.S. states, you are able to record a conversation with a doctor without their knowledge, although some forbid recording without both parties being aware. Regardless of whether you are legally required to ask your physician’s permission to record, it’s a good idea to do so. Some physicians even welcome it and say they feel it will help protect them against frivolous malpractice claims. You will be able to listen to the recording after the fact and determine whether you have any more questions.

Bring A Friend: You may feel anxious or overwhelmed hearing a physician discuss your diagnosis and treatment options, and it might be hard to keep track of which questions to ask or to remember what has been said. Research has shown that 40% to 80% of all information given to a patient is forgotten immediately, and having a third-party advocate on your behalf can be a huge benefit. 

Get A Second Opinion: Sometimes, you can exhaust every option with a doctor and still find yourself frustrated and feeling like you aren’t being heard. In this case, seeking a second opinion from someone else in the same field of practice is a wise decision, especially if you feel that your health is deteriorating. Having another practitioner’s opinion may help you figure out a treatment plan. 

Medical Malpractice Cases in Professions

It can happen anywhere, but medical malpractice cases are most common in a few specialties. The 2019 Medscape Malpractice Cases Report, a survey conducted with thousands of physicians, found that malpractice cases are seen most in the professions below. 

  • Surgeons: Doctors who evaluate and treat conditions that may require surgery
  • Urologists: Physicians who treat male reproductive organs and urinary tracts in both males and females
  • Otolaryngologists: Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors
  • Obstetrician-gynecologists: Doctors who offer care related to reproductive health, pregnancy, and childbirth 
  • Radiologists: Doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating injuries and diseases using medical imaging
  • Emergency medicine specialists: Emergency room doctors
  • Cardiologists: Physicians who specialize in the treatment of heart conditions
  • Gastroenterologists: Doctors who specialize in conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal or digestive tract
  • Anesthesiologists: Physicians who give medication before surgery 

Communication plays a vital role in lessening the number of medical malpractice cases. More than half of physicians who have been sued for medical practice say that improving communication and patient rapport is one of the most effective ways to avoid lawsuits. In most instances, malpractice is caused by negligence, not malice. Only 14% of doctors who have faced malpractice lawsuits say they were expecting it, and most physicians are surprised when they are accused of malpractice. That makes it even more imperative for doctors and patients to do everything they can to communicate effectively. 

Even after trying to protect yourself, you may still find yourself with a medical malpractice case after experiencing medical neglect. Under New Jersey statutes, medical malpractice cases must be filed within two years. If it has been more than two years since you experienced malpractice, you may still be able to seek legal action. New Jersey has a discovery clause that gives people who later realize their injury is related to malpractice more time to file. Working with an experienced medical malpractice attorney will help you get the settlement you need. Call D’Arcy Johnson Day at (609) 641-6200, email or fill out our contact form online for more information or a free legal consultation. 

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