Do doctors make mistakes?
Doctors hold a privileged position in society, treating millions of patients every year. Because of their experience and education, they are trusted to make critical healthcare decisions for the people whose lives are literally in their hands. Whether patients are visiting a physician due to an acute injury, a chronic health condition, or unexplained symptoms, they assume the doctor will be able to figure it out and make the right call.
Unfortunately, that’s not always how things go. Doctors are people too, and they can make mistakes just like anyone else. Medical mistakes can include misdiagnosis, delays in treatment, surgical errors, incorrect prescriptions, and more. Many medical conditions resolve even without treatment, so not all medical mistakes end up causing harm. When they do cause harm, however, they become potential medical malpractice cases.
Impact of medical mistakes
A 2017 research project by academics at Purdue University estimated that medical mistakes cause over a quarter of a million deaths every year in the United States, making them the third leading cause of death in this country. Medical mistakes can delay the correct treatment, making a manageable illness turn fatal or causing people to suffer for longer than they should. Medical mistakes during surgery can be even more severe. If a surgeon cuts the wrong nerve or vein, a patient can suffer permanent injury and death.
Even when the mistake doesn’t cause permanent damage, it can have serious consequences. While recovering from a medical malpractice injury, a patient may be unable to work or spend time with family. They can become depressed or anxious due to the recovery time, or they can develop more serious complications because of corrective treatment. A doctor who makes a medical mistake is responsible for all of the consequences of that mistake.
Why do mistakes happen?
It’s important to remember that most medical mistakes aren’t intentional. Doctors don’t set out to cause injuries; most doctors do their best to protect their patients and provide the highest possible standard of care. Medical malpractice is usually the result of ordinary carelessness. However, that doesn’t mean it’s excusable. Doctors are held to a high standard and are expected to take steps to avoid preventable mistakes. A doctor that fails to plan the surgery properly or doesn’t double-check his equipment can turn a simple error into a catastrophic one.
Physicians also make mistakes due to bias and prejudice. Despite the usual perception of doctors as independent, unbiased arbiters of health, they have the same attitudes as everyone else. If a doctor believes that a person is exaggerating their symptoms, that person may not receive the same treatment, attention, or standard of care as another person. This is a real problem when the doctor evaluates people based on gender, race, or economic status. Research has shown that women and minorities are less likely to be believed when they describe their symptoms, due to common biases and misconceptions. This can have horrible consequences. A person suffering from an acute condition such as a heart attack or stroke needs immediate medical care to prevent permanent injury. Doctors who ignore the signs can be held responsible for the long-term damage.
What can be done?
A Russian proverb, made well-known by President Ronald Reagan, says Doveryai, no proveryai: “Trust, but verify.” When describing your symptoms to a doctor or planning medical treatment, make sure you’re engaged. Listen to the doctor and ask questions about the potential side effects of any treatment. If you get the feeling that the doctor isn’t paying attention or taking you seriously, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion from an independent licensed physician.
If you believe you’ve been injured as the result of a medical mistake, it’s critical to find a medical malpractice attorney like Cohen & Cohen who can evaluate your case and hold the medical provider responsible. Write down everything that happened and keep copies of important documents, as they can become critical in determining whether you have a case.