Medical law and ethics are based on the principles of non-malpractice, meaning that no harm should be caused to a patient due to the interventions performed by medical workers. Nonetheless, human error and the complexity of the health care provider practices imply common cases of adverse outcomes of care that might result in lawsuits. In essence, medical malpractice might be defined as wrongful actions of a physician due to the breach of medical institutional standards that lead to harm caused to a patient. The cases of malpractice lead to litigations that might impede physicians’ professionalism and the credibility of healthcare organizations where they work. Therefore, it is imperative to engage in continuous improvement of healthcare standards to minimize the cases of malpractice and prioritize patients’ beneficial outcomes at all times.
When a case of malpractice reaches the court, physicians are most commonly represented in the role of defendants while patients perform as plaintiffs. According to Maroon (2019), “50% of physicians have been sued for malpractice,” with the majority of cases being associated with high-risk specialties, such as neurosurgery, radiological interventions, and others (p. 2081). The most common types of proof presented in medical malpractice cases are related to the four factors accompanying medical malpractice. In particular, medical malpractice claims are based on “the legal duty between a healthcare professional and a patient” and “a breach of this duty resulting from the failure of the professional to adhere to a standard of care” (Branach et al., 2019, p. 601). Furthermore, “injury caused by the breach and alleged damages,” including monetary and non-monetary losses, constitute the primary factors characterizing medical malpractice.
Thus, when suing physicians for malpractice, patients are likely to claim that a physician acted against the standards of care and caused injury as a result of their incompetent performance. For example, a professional’s failure to obtain informed consent prior to a procedure that ultimately resulted in injury might be a patient’s claim (Branach et al., 2019). Other examples of claims might be an invalid risk assessment before placing, negligence, premature discharge, as well as “retained catheters, ports, or gastrostomy tubes from prior access-related procedures that were discovered at a later date” (Branach et al., 2019, p. 604). As for the defenses surrounding a common medical malpractice case, physicians might appeal to unforeseeable risks, patient’s contribution to an injury, disproving of negligence, and referral to injury as a result of a condition existent before the procedure (Fremgen, 2019).
An array of adverse outcomes that might result from medical malpractice is an encouragement for healthcare professionals to know and apply laws and ethical principles in their daily professional performance. Firstly, compliance with the core ethical principles guarantees security and quality of care delivered to all patients, with the priority set on providing their human rights. The elimination of the risks for patients should be a primary reason for physicians to minimize the likelihood of malpractice occurrence. Secondly, reputational losses are at stake when a case reaches the court despite the results. Thirdly, monetary losses to the health care system are significant due to the payments made for plaintiffs (Thomas et al., 2018). Finally, physicians’ health is at risk due to common occurrences of catastrophic cardiovascular complications resulting from exposure to interrogations and trials (Maroon, 2019). Therefore it is important for medical professionals to incorporate the knowledge of the law to eliminate the risks of malpractice, as well as be equipped for proper defense if required.
In terms of physician-patient relationships, ethical and legal principles should be in place to ensure clarity of communication, informed decision-making on both parts, and the enhanced awareness of possible risks and outcomes of performed procedures. The responsibilities and rights of both parties involved in the relationship should be clarified and based on the principles of trust and prioritization of patients’ safety and well-being. In particular, a physician is responsible for acting to the best of his or her professional competency, which minimizes the risks of malpractice. Moreover, a professional is both ethically and legally obliged to deliver an equal level of professional care to all patients “regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion” (Fremgen, 2019, p. 102). Within the legal domain, all procedures should be attributed with an informed consent form signed by the patient to ensure their awareness of the intervention and their permission to perform one given the risks, if any. As for the ethical considerations, the American Medical Association (AMA) sets “ethical standards for the behavior of physicians” (Fremgen, 2019, p. 102). Therefore, ethics should be treated as an integral part of the physician-patient relationship with standards strictly followed by the healthcare professional at all times.
Medical malpractice is an issue that must be prioritized at an organizational level. Specific measures should be implemented at an institutional level to minimize the risks of malpractice and ensure that all employees perform their duties skillfully and ethically. Organizations should implement specifically designed protocols to ensure timely differential diagnoses, strict rules for informed consent retrieval, and ethical decision-making frameworks to minimize litigations (Thomas et al., 2019). Indeed, when resolving ethical dilemmas, physicians are responsible for following the ethical standards and apply decision-making standards that would ensure a correct decision under complicated circumstances. Conclusively, when following standards of care, complying with organizational protocols and prioritizing ethical decision-making at all times, physicians will minimize the risks of malpractice, ensure patient safety, and maintain a healthcare system feasible and credible.
Branach, C. S., Khaja, M. S., Bundy, J. J., Chick, J. F. B., Boothman, R., Gemmete, J. J., & Srinivasa, R. N. (2019). Medical malpractice in image-guided procedures: An analysis of 184 cases. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology, 30(4), 601-606.
Fremgen, B. F. (2019). Medical law and ethics (6th ed.). Pearson.
Maroon, J. C. (2019). Catastrophic cardiovascular complications from medical malpractice stress syndrome. Journal of Neurosurgery, 130(6), 2081-2085.
Thomas, R., Gupta, R., Griessenauer, C. J., Moore, J. M., Adeeb, N., Motiei-Langroudi, R., Guidal, B., Agarval, N., Alterman, R. L., Friedlander, R. M., Ogilvy, C. S., & Thomas, A. J. (2018). Medical malpractice in neurosurgery: A comprehensive analysis. World Neurosurgery, 110, e552-e559.