Medical Negligence and Medical Malpractice Suits – a Continuing Saga

by | Published on Jan 25, 2016 | Medical Record Review

A medical malpractice suit arises when a person is injured or dies in a medical setting on account of a medical professional’s action or inaction. Medical professionals include physicians, nurses, technicians, hospitals and other healthcare entities, and hospital workers. To determine the viability of the suit, an attorney has to review the relevant and complete facts related to the particular patient. Medical record review for attorneys is a service that helps to organize and index all the medical records and review them for merit and causation.

A study released by the US inspector general in March 2014 showed that one in three or 33% persons admitted to a nursing home for rehabilitation are harmed, mostly due to insufficient care and monitoring. Shockingly, 6% of those patients died. Patients in many care homes are not attended to or properly supervised. This leads to medication errors, falls and bed sores among other complications. Patients, especially those suffering from dementia, may wander off and get lost when staffing is inadequate and supervision becomes flawed. Often it is the improper and inadequate care provided to residents that leads to patient injuries in care facilities.

The callousness of certain clinical professionals and the unethical way in which they tamper with patient medical records are quite disturbing. A recent incident (reported in Manchester Evening News) that led to the jailing of two care home workers – a duty nurse and a care assistant at a care home in Salford, Manchester, UK — is a case in point. They lied to the police and falsified the medical records of an elderly dementia patient who died while in their care. The 89-year-old woman died in severe pain because these workers failed to carry out regular checks after she developed intestinal problems. On finding her dead, the pair altered her medical records to support their lies that they had visited her as required by care standards. In addition, going against the care center’s procedure, they changed the woman’s bedding and washed her before calling emergency services to report the death. The paramedics who were called in became suspicious noticing the signs of rigor mortis setting in, which signified that the patient had died many hours earlier. This fact was established by a post mortem report. The caregivers’ failure to provide care left the poor woman in severe pain, vomiting and nauseous before her death.

In the above mentioned case, the tampering with medical records was identified and used along with other evidence to incriminate the pair. Falsifying medical records is something erring caregivers resort to in an effort to cover up their shortcomings and mistakes. When reviewing patient records for the attorney, this is something a medical record review company would be on the lookout for. To prove malpractice, two things must be established at the basic level:

  • That the medical professional made a mistake
  • The patient was harmed as a result of that mistake

The court would carefully consider the medical standard of care or the generally accepted patient care standards when treating patients with similar medical problems in that particular geographic area. That is to say, the standard of care for a 40-year-old dementia patient in Florida would not be the same standard of care as that of an 80-year-old dementia patient in California. In a personal injury case, the attorney will have to prove that the caregiver’s action or inaction was a mistake and also that the mistake injured the patient. If the treatment was given in keeping with the medical standard of care in a particular area, and if the patient was not harmed by the treatment even though it did not meet the standard of care, there is no valid medical malpractice claim.

The time period or statute of limitations within which a civil lawsuit can be filed against a medical professional varies with each state in the U.S. Typically, medical malpractice attorneys help negotiate a settlement with the medical professional who is at fault. In the absence of a settlement, the attorney would file a medical malpractice lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out.

Read our blog on Medical Malpractice Vs Medical Negligence – Key Differences

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