What Is The Difference Between Medical Error And Medical Malpractice?

Madeleine Jones
May 15, 2019

Medical professionals have a legal and professional responsibility to prevent harm to their patients. This means meeting each patient’s standard of care for his or her medical condition. When a medical professional such as a doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, or psychiatrist makes an error in treating a patient, he or she could face liability for a medical malpractice lawsuit from the victim. However, medicine is an inherently uncertain field, and honest mistakes can and due happen.

Everyone should know the difference between a medical error and medical malpractice. A medical professional making an error does not automatically constitute medical malpractice.

What Is a Medical Error?

A medical error is simply an error or misstep in the treatment of a patient’s ailment. Every known medical condition has a standard of care, or a minimum level of treatment a patient should expect for a specific condition. If the medical professional meets this standard but still commits an error due to unexpected or atypical factors in the patient’s case, he or she may not be guilty of medical malpractice.

In most medical error cases, the medical professional that committed the error will likely offer to fix it free of charge to the patient. Many medical conditions mimic the symptoms of others, and errors during diagnostic processes and laboratory testing may lead to an error that harms the patient. Ultimately, the dividing line between medical error and medical malpractice is the standard of care.

If the medical professional did not meet the appropriate standard of care for a patient’s condition and made an error, this would likely constitute medical malpractice.

Defining Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to meet the standard of care for a patient or commits a negligent error that another similarly skilled professional would have likely avoided. Similar to proving negligence in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff in a medical malpractice claim must prove several elements of medical malpractice to succeed with a medical malpractice lawsuit.

  • The claimant must prove an official doctor-patient relationship existed with the defendant. The defendant must have agreed to treat the patient and the patient must have agreed to the defendant’s treatment.
  • The claimant must show how the defendant failed to meet the standard of care in the given situation.
  • The claimant must have suffered some kind of measurable harm or loss resulting from the defendant’s failure to meet the standard of care.

If a claim satisfies these requirements, the claimant can typically move forward with a medical malpractice claim. Another unique aspect of medical malpractice claims is that most require approval from the appropriate medical board before they can proceed to full-fledged lawsuit.

The medical board with jurisdiction over the defendant will review the claim to determine if the defendant violated the standard of care. If so, the medical board will provide the claimant with a notice that he or she has the right to sue, or an affidavit of merit affirming the claim’s legitimacy.

Understanding the Difference

If a medical professional made an error with your treatment that resulted in harm, this does not automatically constitute medical malpractice. Ask a few questions about the situation to determine whether you should speak with a Nevada personal injury attorney.

  • Was the error clearly communicated to you? Or did you only learn of the error once you saw a bill for additional treatment beyond the scope of what you expected?
  • Did the error result in any permanent injury or disability?
  • Did the medical professional offer to fix the damage or provide additional treatment?

These questions can help determine whether a medical professional made a genuine error due to unavoidable circumstances or committed medical malpractice. If you have any questions about your rights after suffering any type of injury from medical treatment, speak with a Las Vegas medical malpractice attorney right away.