It is estimated 100,000 people die each year from medical errors caused by physicians alone. There are a number of reasons patients sue their doctors, but Dr. R.J. Roberts, of the University of Wisconsin Medical School, identified in his Family Practice Management article of March, 2003, seven reasons why medical errors occur:
1. Cancer Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose or a Delay in Diagnosis: This is especially true of breast cancer patients. Doctors who rely on false negative mammogram studies rather than on patient complaints and following up appropriately may cause harm to the patient and be liable for medical malpractice. Approximately 29 percent of screening mammograms return false negative results;
2. Birth Injury Malpractice or Negligent Maternity Care Practice: The two most common birth defect or birth injury medical malpractice claims arise from excessive use of Oxycontin, specifically if the baby is experiencing distress, and the doctor’s failure to ensure their patient is covered by another physician informed about the patient’s clinical history should the primary doctor be unavailable;
3. Wrong Diagnosis and Misdiagnosis of Negligent Fracture or Trauma: This medical malpractice claim occurs when a doctor assumes that a fracture is merely a sprain or other minor injury without follow through investigation with x-rays or other proper diagnostic tests. Dependent on the location of the fracture, this can have severe consequences, including loss of a limb;
4. Delay in Diagnosis or Failure to Consult in a Timely Manner: A doctor who is sued for failure to consult in a timely manner has hesitated too long before making a referral and the patient has suffered adverse repercussions as a result. Within a reasonable amount of visits to the family doctor, the patient should be referred to a specialist if the family doctor is having difficulty pronouncing a diagnosis or symptoms are not improving or worsening despite treatment;
5. Medication Errors or Medication Malpractice Resulting From Negligent Drug Treatment: This is the third leading cause of death. Medical error or negligence in prescribing medications may be the cause of 225,000 deaths per year. Lack of patient education about the medications prescribed is a component of negligent drug treatment. Prescription drug malpractice claims can also result from a doctor’s poor handwriting on the prescription order and misinterpretation by a pharmacist;
6. Physician Malpractice Resulting From Negligent Procedures or Surgical Errors: Physicians do not necessarily have to be performing unfamiliar procedures for such a medical malpractice suit to ensue. Many physicians are sued because they performed procedures they are trained for when the doctor was not alert due to physical exhaustion or mental distraction. In these circumstances, sleep deprivation or mental stress may cause a deficiency performed procedure leading to patient complications;
7. Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: This allegation stems from the failure of the physician to ensure the patient is fully informed of expected outcomes, potential risks and reasonable alternatives to the recommended course of action advised by the doctor resulting in damages to the patient.