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Medical Negligence vs. Malpractice – What’s the Difference?

Medical negligence vs. malpractice - What's the difference?


In the realm of health care, two terms frequently arise: medical negligence and malpractice.

While often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the two. Understanding these differences is crucial, particularly for those working within the health care sector and individuals seeking legal recourse for injuries or harm suffered due to medical treatment.

At GDH Law, our experienced attorneys understand the nuances and differences in these types of cases and how to fight for justice and fair compensation for clients who have suffered medical negligence or medical malpractice.

Let’s take a look at the nuances of medical negligence and malpractice to clarify their meanings and implications.

Defining Medical Negligence

Medical negligence refers to the failure of Maryland health care professionals to provide a standard level of care expected within their field. This deviation from the accepted standard can result in harm or injury to the patient.

It’s essential to note that medical negligence does not always imply malicious intent; rather, it encompasses instances where a health care provider fails to meet the established standard of care due to oversight, incompetence, or lack of attention.

Understanding Malpractice

Malpractice, on the other hand, is a specific type of negligence that occurs when a health care professional deviates from the standard of care, resulting in harm or injury to the patient.

Unlike medical negligence, malpractice involves a breach of duty owed to the patient, which leads to foreseeable harm. Malpractice cases often entail a violation of professional standards or protocols, and they typically involve negligence of a more egregious nature than ordinary medical errors.

Key Differences Between Medical Negligence and Malpractice

  1. Standard of Care: In medical negligence cases, the focus is on whether the health care provider adhered to their profession’s standard practices and protocols. Malpractice cases, on the other hand, involve a breach of the duty owed to the patient, indicating a more severe departure from the accepted standard of care.
  2. Intent: Medical negligence does not necessarily imply intent to harm the patient; it may arise from inadvertent mistakes or errors in judgment. Malpractice, however, often involves a degree of recklessness or willful disregard for the patient’s well-being, leading to more serious consequences.
  3. Legal Implications: While both medical negligence and malpractice can result in legal action, malpractice cases typically carry greater legal consequences due to the egregious nature of the negligence involved. Malpractice lawsuits may involve claims for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.

Examples of Medical Negligence and Malpractice

To illustrate the distinction between medical negligence and malpractice, consider the following scenarios:

Medical Negligence Scenario: A surgeon inadvertently leaves a surgical instrument inside a patient during a procedure due to a momentary lapse in concentration. While this constitutes a breach of the standard of care, it may be considered medical negligence rather than malpractice if the surgeon acted without malicious intent.

Other examples of medical negligence can include:

Medical negligence encompasses a wide range of situations where a health care provider fails to meet the expected standard of care, resulting in harm or injury to the patient. Here are some examples:

  • Misdiagnosis or Delayed Diagnosis: When a health care professional fails to accurately diagnose a medical condition in a timely manner, it can lead to delayed treatment and exacerbation of the patient’s condition.
  • Medication Errors: Mistakes in prescribing, dispensing, or administering medication can have serious consequences for patients. This may involve prescribing the wrong medication, incorrect dosage, or failure to consider potential drug interactions or allergies. (Medication errors cost approximately 7,000 to 9,000 lives each year, according to the National Library of Medicine).
  • Failure to Obtain Informed Consent: Failure to obtain informed consent or providing inadequate information to the patient can constitute medical negligence.
  • Neglecting to Follow Up: Health care providers have a duty to monitor their patients’ progress and follow up on their care to ensure optimal outcomes. Neglecting to follow up on test results, referrals to specialists, or changes in the patient’s condition can constitute medical negligence.

Medical Malpractice: Medical malpractice involves more egregious deviations from the standard of care and often results in significant harm or injury to the patient.

Scenario: A pharmacist dispenses the wrong medication to a patient despite having access to their medical history and prescriptions, resulting in severe adverse reactions and hospitalization. In this case, the pharmacist’s failure to exercise due diligence and adhere to standard protocols constitutes malpractice due to the foreseeable harm caused to the patient.

Here are some more examples of medical malpractice:

  • Performing Unnecessary Surgery: When a health care provider performs surgery that is not medically warranted, it constitutes medical malpractice.
  • Failure to Recognize and Treat Complications: Health care providers have a duty to monitor patients closely for signs of complications following surgery or medical procedures. Medical malpractice may occur if health care providers ignore or dismiss patients’ symptoms, resulting in delayed treatment and worsened outcomes.
  • Anesthesia Errors: Anesthesia is a critical component of many medical procedures, and errors in administering anesthesia can have severe consequences for patients. Anesthesia errors can lead to respiratory distress, brain damage, or even death.
  • Nursing Home Neglect: Medical malpractice can occur in the context of nursing home care when residents are subjected to neglect or abuse by staff members. Nursing homes have a duty to provide a safe and supportive environment for residents, and failure to do so may constitute medical malpractice.

Medical negligence and medical malpractice are distinct concepts within Maryland health care law, each with its own set of implications and consequences.

While medical negligence encompasses a broad spectrum of errors and oversights by health care providers, malpractice involves a more severe departure from the accepted standard of care, often resulting in significant harm to the patient.

By understanding the differences between these terms, health care professionals can strive to uphold the highest standards of care. At the same time, patients can better navigate their legal rights when victims of medical negligence or malpractice.

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