What is the difference between a mistake and medical malpractice?

To err is human.

We all agree that medical professionals are human and that humans make mistakes. The Institute of Medicine reports that more people die annually in the United States from the “adverse affects related to healthcare” than from motor vehicle accidents, AIDS or breast cancer.

Some mistakes can be fixed and leave no long term negative effects. Other mistakes cause significant harm and are at times fatal.

What is the difference between a mistake and medical malpractice?

  • Misdiagnosis, delayed or failure to diagnose
  • Negligent prenatal care (leading to child birth errors and fetal injuries)
  • Prescription errors including administration of drugs
  • Lab errors
  • Radiology errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Surgical errors including the ER

The difference between a human error and medical malpractice is negligence. Doctors cannot always control outcomes. If a patient comes to a doctor for a first visit with stage four pancreatic cancer the doctor may do all she can and yet the disease may win. This is not necessarily negligence.

However if a middle aged patient complains of a colon obstruction again and again and the doctor fails to order a colonoscopy this may constitute negligence.

Doctors, nurses, care team staff and facilities have a responsibility to put the interests of the patient first. Extensive cover-ups, denials of a mistake, and doctors and nurses operating or providing care while under the influence of drugs or alcohol all constitute violations of ethical principles.

Mistakes will be made and hopefully they can be acknowledged and remedied with no lingering negative effects to the patient.

However, if a doctor, nurse or care team professional including the facility have acted unethically then it is in a patient’s best interest to contact an attorney who works in medical malpractice to ensure that the unethical or negligent behavior is halted and to protect the patient’s right to care and maximum compensation.


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