An Injury Doesn’t Mean Someone Did Something Wrong

KirbyMason-image1-OPTBy Kirby G. Mason, HunterMaclean

Special to Business in Savannah

Does a bad outcome after a health care procedure necessarily mean someone did something wrong? No.

Life is not perfect. We encounter and accept many risks every day. Every time we drive a car or walk across the street, we take a risk. Some of the factors that affect the risk are in our control, such as our speed or the distractions we invite. Other risk factors are out of our control and are simply unavoidable. We accept daily risks without a second thought.

When it comes to health care, however, we sometimes fail to consider seriously the risks of a medical procedure, but instead expect perfect outcomes. While we are advised by our physicians and nurses about the nature and gravity of the various risks of a medical procedure, and while we even sign a consent form acknowledging the risks of complications, we choose to believe that we fall within the majority of people for whom these complications do not occur.

We never plan or expect to be in the minority of patients who actually experience one of the potential complications or for whom the procedure does not fully achieve the desired benefit. However, a less than perfect result does not mean that anyone did anything wrong.

Under the law, physicians and nurses must practice within what is called the “standard of care,” which is generally defined as what a reasonable and prudent provider would do under the same or similar circumstances. As a matter of law, there is a presumption that a medical provider has met the standard of care, and mere evidence of an injury alone does not overcome this presumption.

There may be more than one reasonable and acceptable way in which a procedure may be performed. The fact that a physician chooses to use one method for performing the procedure over other available methods does not mean she violated the standard of care, so long as the chosen method was reasonable.

Even when the physician meets the standard of care and performs the procedure correctly, there is no guarantee of perfection. In any medical procedure, whether simple or complicated, a litany of things can go wrong, even under the best of circumstances and through no fault of the physician.

A doctor can perform the same procedure on two different patients and have two very different outcomes, even though the doctor acted within the standard of care on both occasions. Reasons vary. Different patients may have different medical problems – high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, etc. – that may make them more susceptible to a complication during the procedure.

It’s natural to be upset at a less than perfect medical outcome, and it’s natural to sympathize with patients who have experienced a less than perfect outcome. However, it would be wrong to conclude automatically that the negative outcome means that someone did something wrong. Until established otherwise by a qualified professional, the medical care providers are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

If you have an issue or a question about your medical care, it is best to first discuss it with your physician. If you still have concerns, then seek a second opinion from another qualified physician.

Medical malpractice is a complex field, subject to numerous court rulings and statutes. Health care professionals and medical institutions who have patient complaints about the standard of care should consult with an attorney who has extensive medical malpractice litigation experience to determine the best course of action.