How to Distinguish Between Medical Errors and Malpractice

The healthcare system can sometimes feel like a balancing act – especially when distinguishing between medical errors and malpractice. One step in the wrong direction can lead to dire consequences.

Despite its advancements, the healthcare sector is not devoid of human errors. However, there’s a significant difference between an innocent oversight and an error stemming from negligence or carelessness. Being informed about these distinctions is crucial for patients advocating for their health and for professionals aiming to maintain high standards in their practice.

What is a Medical Error?

As defined by the World Health Organization, a medical error is a preventable adverse effect of care due to a fault in decision-making or execution. Errors can emerge from multiple sources – misdiagnosing, incorrect drug prescription, or a surgical malfeasance. Sometimes, they arise from systemic issues like equipment failures, miscommunication among medical staff, or even inadequate training. Notably, these errors might not always cause harm but have the potential to.

What is a ‘Harmless’ Medical Error?

When we hear “medical error,” we might instantly envision severe consequences. However, not all errors result in harm. A ‘harmless’ medical error can be a near-miss, where the error was identified and corrected before reaching the patient. For instance, a doctor might prescribe a drug that a patient is allergic to, but a vigilant pharmacist catches the mistake upon reviewing the patient’s history, thereby averting potential harm. It’s essential to understand these incidents, not for litigation but for learning and improvement, ensuring they don’t escalate into more severe issues.

What Is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice is conduct, either an act or omission, which falls below what is reasonably acceptable and results in damage. To be categorized as malpractice, the act must be proven negligent and responsible for an injury or adverse outcome. For instance, if a surgeon operates on the wrong limb or a doctor prescribes medication without reviewing a patient’s allergies, and the patient suffers, it may qualify as malpractice.

Emery Wang

Emery Wang

Emery Wang has been a lawyer in Oregon since 2009. While attending Lewis & Clark law school, Emery worked as a Multnomah County District Attorney, and since then has been a full time personal injury lawyer.

Vames, Wang & Sosa Injury Lawyers focus on vehicle crashes, personal injury, and first-party car accident insurance claims. They have offices located in Gresham and Hillsboro.

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