Medical Malpractice: What You Need to Know

Medical malpractice or mistakes made by a medical professional, like a nurse or doctor, are much more common than you might think. Many patients are not even aware that their situation getting worse after receiving medical assistance was caused by medical malpractice, while most of those who do know never seek justice in a court of law.

Medical Malpractice: Incidence and Most Common Types

In some of the world’s most developed nations with state-of-the-art healthcare systems, medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. In developing nations, that number might be even higher as either authorities sweep medical malpractice cases under the rug because of mounting pressure from the Big Pharma and medical lobby or people lack the proper education and/or resources to identify a case of medical malpractice when they see one.

Surprisingly, just 2% of injured patients or their families file a claim for compensation when malpractice is involved. Even fewer people get any compensation in the courtroom.

The most common forms of medical malpractice include:

1. Misdiagnosis: this means that a doctor fails to identify correctly the disease you are suffering from, leaving the condition untreated or improperly treated, which can lead to a lifetime cost of injuries or even death. The two most often misdiagnosed conditions are heart disease and cancer, which also happen to be the two top causes of death worldwide.

2. Surgical error:  Surgical errors are very common too, but unfortunately, these are the deadliest. A surgeon may accidentally leave a foreign object inside your body, may operate the wrong organ or even the wrong person, or may mess up the entire operation due to lack of experience or tiredness. Hundreds of people die every year because of unnecessary surgery.

3. Wrong Prescription. A doctor may give you the wrong medication for your condition, may prescribe the wrong dose, or may fail to read the side effects of a drug and see that it could make one of your pre-existing medical conditions worse.For instance, an anti-anxiety drug may make your heart issues worse. Medication errors are the most common type of malpractice.

4. Carelessness. A doctor can correctly diagnose your condition, but he or she either discharges you from the hospital too soon, fails to give you the proper medication for that condition, or simply forgets to follow up on a critical test result.

5. Childbirth injury. Ob/gyns are often slammed with malpractice lawsuits because the malpractice is more evident in their case. A careless ob/gyn might maim a mother or her newborn child for a lifetime through spinal injuries, bone fractures, nerve damage, or cerebral palsy.

When Can I Sue a Healthcare Professional?

In Rwanda, unfortunately, very few patients know their rights. You should know that you can file a personal injury lawsuit against a healthcare professional (medic, nurse, or pharmacist) if his or her action or inaction caused you an injury and financial and/or emotional loss. But medical malpractice is still one of the most complicated cases among all the different types of personal injury cases.

That is because, under Rwanda’s Evidence Act, the patient must prove his or her allegations brought against a medic. What’s more, the Medical Council is so far the only agency that tries to protect patients against medical errors in the country. The penal code doesn’t have a criminal penalty for medical malpractice either. And on top of that, the roles of medics and pharmacists are so intermingled that you cannot tell for sure who is to blame for your injuries.

For instance, in some cases, pharmacists know the drug’s adverse effects better than doctors do. So, if a doctor prescribes you the wrong drug for your condition, who is to blame for your injuries or loss? The doctor who wrongfully prescribed the drug or the pharmacist who knew that the drug would make your condition worse, yet still gave it to you? In this case, both health professionals could be liable.