MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE VS. MEDICAL MALPRACTICE: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
The term “medical negligence” is often used synonymously with “medical malpractice” and for most purposes that is adequate. Strictly speaking though, medical negligence is only one required legal element of a meritorious medical malpractice claim.
WHAT IS MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE?
One definition of medical negligence includes an act or omission (failure to act) by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care.
When it comes to medical malpractice law, medical negligence is usually the legal concept upon which the case hinges, from a “legal fault” perspective. Negligence on its own does not merit a medical malpractice claim, but when the negligence is the cause of injury to a patient, there may be a good case for medical malpractice.
Negligence in general is defined as a common legal theory that comes into play when assessing who is at fault in a tort case.
SO HOW DOES NEGLIGENCE WORKS?
A good way to explain how negligence works is to think of a driver getting into an accident on the road. In a car accident, it is usually established that one person caused the accident by breaching their legal duty to obey traffic laws and drive responsibly under the circumstances. That person would then be responsible for all damages suffered by the other parties involved in the crash.
For example, if a driver fails to stop at a red light, then that driver is said to be negligent in the eyes of the law. If the failure to stop at the red light causes an accident, then the negligent driver is responsible – usually through an insurer – to pay for any damages causes to other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians, as a result of running the red light.
Similar to drivers, doctors, and other medical professionals also have a duty to their patients; to provide them a treatment that is in the line with the medical standard of care. This is usually defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice.
So, medical negligence occurs when a doctor, dentist, nurse, surgeon, or any other medical professional performs their job in a way that deviates from this accepted medical standard of care. In keeping with the car accident analogy, if a doctor provides a treatment that is substandard in terms of accepted medical norms under the circumstances, then that doctor has failed to perform his or her duty and is said to be negligent.
WHEN DOES IT BECOME MALPRACTICE?
“Medical negligence,” however, does not equal injury. It’s important to reiterate that medical negligence foes not always result in injury to a patient. When a driver runs a red light and no accident occurs, the driver is still negligent even though no one was hurt. Similarly, a doctor or healthcare professional might deviate from the appropriate medical standard of care in treating a patient, but if the patient is not harmed and their health is not impacted, that negligence won’t lead to a medical malpractice case.
In short, medical negligence becomes medical malpractice when the doctor’s negligent treatment causes undue injury to the patient, makes the patient’s condition worse, causes unreasonable and unexpected complications or necessitates additional medical treatment.
In other words, the addition of two additional elements – legal causation and damages – is necessary before medical negligence will give rise to a viable medical malpractice lawsuit.