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Q&A: Doctor Negligent?

What makes a doctor negligent? What are the ways a doctor can commit medical malpractice?

A: When a doctor or other health care provider renders negligent care, it most often falls into one of three categories:

  1. Failure to properly diagnose a patient’s medical condition: health care providers are required to perform an appropriate amount and type of diagnostic testing within the appropiate time window so that results can be used to direct treatment in a timely manner. In addition, the resulting diagnosis must be disclosed to the patient.
  2. Failure to properly treat the patient: this does not mean that a bad outcome gives rise to a negligence claim. Ineffective surgeries are not always the result of medical negligence. Unless a patient signs a contract with a health care provider that guarantees success or cure, then bad results and failure to cure are not actionable medical negligence claims. A health care provider has the duty to recognize that he or she does not have the skill to treat a medical condition and either seek help or refer the patient to a specialist.
  3. Failure to obtain the patient’s informed consent: before examining, treating or operating, a health care provider must obtain the patient’s informed consent in most cases. This involves explaining the treatment, the acceptable alternatives and substantial risks of the treatment. Disclosure of small risks is not required. If this consent is not obtained, a doctor can still prevail by proving that a reasonable patient would have consented if given the information.

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