Medical malpractice suits hold doctors and facilities accountable

Over a decade ago, a landmark study published by the National Institute of Medicine found that preventable mistakes were costing the lives of nearly 100,000 patients every year. Since then, many health experts have made patient safety a priority. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go.

There is still a reluctance by some in the medical community to hold individual doctors accountable for mistakes. For example, good hand hygiene is a basic safety measure doctors, nurses and hospital employees should all practice. The absence of hand hygiene can lead to serious infections and even death in patients. However, Dr. Robert M. Wachter, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, has found that despite increased awareness of the need for good hand hygiene, and some new safety measures that have been implemented across the country, hospitals still only have on average a 30 to 70 percent "hand hygiene rate." This means that doctors, nurses and staff must be held accountable for failing to practice basic safety measures.

Systemic patient safety reforms can also be difficult to implement, especially since most safety measures undertaken by hospitals are optional. For example, researchers from the Yale School of Medicine recently analyzed data from a ten-year period before and after one Connecticut hospital introduced increased safety measures in its OB/GYN practice. The safety measures included implementing standardization practices, improving teamwork and communication between medical staff, and hiring a patient safety nurse. Once implemented, these procedures reduced malpractice claims by half - but most importantly, patient safety improved.

However, despite its success, hospitals elsewhere do not have to follow similar safety measures on their own. Some resist implementing safety programs for fear of reducing a doctor's ability to make medical decisions or fear of acknowledging previous liability. If a hospital is behind on patient safety, often the best way to hold them accountable is through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Understanding the mistake and taking action

One of the biggest obstacles in a medical malpractice case is understanding how the doctor or facility erred and what should have been done differently. Because patients are putting their faith in doctors and hospitals to provide the best care possible, this can take some investigation and the help of a third-party medical expert.

Once a patient understands what went wrong, he or she can get corrective treatment and begin to heal. At this point a patient generally has two priorities: to get well and to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to anyone else.

A medical malpractice suit can help accomplish both goals. A lawsuit can help a patient pay for the often extraordinarily high cost of further treatment. A medical malpractice suit can also bring awareness of what happened to the public and deter the hospital, doctor or medical facility from doing the same thing in the future.

Patients who believe they were injured because of a medical error should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss their situation and legal options.