Medical professionals take an oath to use their ability and judgment, never with a view to cause harm, but to help the sick. Despite this, medical professions are not infallible and have often erred in the course of providing treatment. Every medical professional is expected to treat a patient the way any other reasonable medical provider with the same qualifications would do. Should their conduct fall below the established standard of care, one is found guilty of medical negligence. Negligence does not always result in complications, injury or death but, when it does, it becomes a case of medical malpractice, provided there is proof of harm or loss.

Medical malpractice has become a cause of concern in many countries as the cases of medical litigation against health professionals increases. This has had several effects, two of which are discussed in this article:

1. Rise in medical malpractice premiums


The rise in litigation cases has forced almost all medical professionals to purchase malpractice insurance that covers expenses related to medical malpractice claim. Unfortunately, there has been an exponential rise in the cost of malpractice insurance to cover the increased litigation risk. The medical specialities are considered as being of ‘high risk’, and most surgical disciplines have been affected. As a result, it has been noted that many medical professionals are shying away from these high risk specializations, or relocating to geographical regions with lower premiums resulting in shortage in already depleted specializations.

2. Fear of malpractice liability


Medical professionals have been forced to alter the way they practice medicine. Fear of malpractice is forcing health professionals to adopt a defensive approach in treating patients by ordering unnecessary or excessive tests and referrals. This is a counterproductive approach towards practicing medicine, taking the stance that each patient is a potential lawsuit.

Medical malpractice lawsuits can impose more than just a financial burden upon medical professions. Mental distress is common as accusations of malpractice are often taken personally. Other personal costs include lost time from work and a damaged reputation.

However, this can be reduced by doctors taking steps to improve communication with their patients and through thorough and accurate documentation of everything done for the patient. MIMS

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