Negligence vs. Malpractice: Medical Negligence Is Not the Same as Medical Malpractice

Negligence is a legal term that generally means a person failed to take reasonable care to protect others from harm. For example, if a driver accidentally runs a red light, they might be deemed negligent for not following traffic rules, even if they’re typically very attentive behind the wheel.

Similarly, in the world of medicine, negligence occurs when a healthcare professional fails to provide the recognized standard of care. In practice, that can mean anything from a missed diagnosis to a surgical error. Just like a good driver may sometimes fail to follow traffic rules, even the best physicians can sometimes fall short of the standard of care as they juggle tight schedules and heavy patient loads.

Read on to learn when medical negligence can lead to claims of medical malpractice, plus the role of medical malpractice insurance.

Negligence vs. Malpractice: What's the Difference?

The terms “medical negligence” and “medical malpractice” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. What is the difference between negligence and malpractice?

Medical negligence occurs when a physician, nurse, or other healthcare professional provides care that is not in line with the medical standard of care. Typically, the standard of care is defined as the type of care that a reasonably competent healthcare professional with a similar background would have provided in the same situation.

Acts of medical negligence do not necessarily cause negative consequences for physicians or their patients. For example, a surgeon may forget to properly inform a patient about the potential risks of a procedure. If the procedure is completed successfully with no postoperative complications, the patient does not suffer any harm.

However, negligence has the potential to cause harm. Acts of negligence that injure patients may be considered medical malpractice, and injured patients may file lawsuits against the physicians involved in their care.

For example, a physician may fail to follow up on abnormal test results indicating possible cancer. As a result, the cancer remains undetected for an extended period, and the patient’s prognosis is significantly worsened. The patient, seeking financial compensation for their injuries, may file a lawsuit against their physician.

What Is Medical Malpractice Insurance?

Medical malpractice insurance, also known as Med Mal, is a specialized type of liability insurance for physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers. It’s designed to offer financial protection in the event a patient files a medical malpractice lawsuit.

A medical malpractice policy helps cover the cost of defending yourself from a medical malpractice claim. That includes the cost of retaining a defense attorney to gather evidence, review documents, and represent you in court. It also includes the cost of hiring physician expert witnesses to give their opinions on the medical standard of care.

The cost of defending a medical malpractice claim varies depending on several factors, including the complexity of the case and your state but legal expenses typically exceed $100,000. More complex cases that end up in trial can cost $500,000 or more.If you’re found liable, medical malpractice insurance helps cover the cost of damages awarded to a patient. Potential damages are wide ranging and can include compensation for medical bills, past loss of income, loss of future earnings, pain and suffering and wrongful death. Settlements may reach into hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

By offering coverage for defense costs, settlements, and judgments, medical malpractice insurance offers crucial financial protection for physicians. It helps shield your practice and personal assets from the impacts of medical malpractice claims within policy limits.

What Is an Example of Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence can happen any time a physician or other healthcare provider fails to provide a reasonable standard of care under the circumstances. In the high-stakes field of medicine, many oversights can be considered negligent. The following situations are just a few examples of what is considered medical negligence:

1. Misdiagnosing a patient.

A physician reassures a patient that their chest pain is due to acid reflux, when they actually have a life threatening heart condition.

2. Failing to diagnose a patient.

Despite a patient reporting persistent abdominal pain and rectal bleeding, a physician overlooks the possibility of colon cancer.

3. Failing to order appropriate tests.

A patient presents to the emergency room with symptoms suggestive of a heart attack, but the physician does not order any tests.

4. Failure to communicate test results.

A physician orders a biopsy for a patient’s suspicious mole, but neglects to call the patient when the results show melanoma.

5. Failing to monitor a patient.

During surgery, an anesthesiologist fails to monitor a patient’s vitals for signs of complications and the airway is compromised leading to insufficient oxygen and brain damage.

6. Failing to get informed consent.

Before a planned procedure, a surgeon does not discuss the potential risks with their patient or provide a detailed consent form so they can provide official patient informed consent to the procedure.

7. Prescribing medication improperly.

Due to a mix-up in drug names, a physician prescribes an incorrect medication to a patient.

8. Making surgical errors.

A surgeon accidentally leaves a clamp, retractor, or surgical sponge inside the patient after an operation.

Acts of medical negligence, like those listed above, can rise to the level of medical malpractice if a patient is injured in some way. Injuries could include damage to an internal organ, limitation of a bodily function, a worse prognosis, or even loss of life.

Patients who file medical malpractice claims are responsible for proving that a reasonable and competent physician in the same specialty would not have made the same error. The burden of proof is on the patient to show that the physician was negligent and  caused them economic or non-economic harm as a result.

Get a Medical Malpractice Quote

Even the best physicians can make clinical errors that are considered medical negligence. Medical malpractice insurance helps protect you financially and it helps protect your reputation in the event a patient brings a lawsuit.

Indigo leverages robust data sets and artificial intelligence in its proprietary underwriting model to quickly analyze thousands of data points, providing individualized pricing to physicians in all medical specialties. Indigo rewards physicians that practice good medicine with bigger potential savings.

Request your personalized quote today.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. This article is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal advice. Consult your legal counsel for advice with respect to any particular legal matter referenced in this article and otherwise.