Watching a family member suffer from medical malpractice is heartbreaking, especially when they feel hopeless about their situation. Medical malpractice takes on many forms including, but not limited to prescribing the wrong medication, misdiagnosis, performing unnecessary surgery, premature discharge, and disregarding patient history.
If your family member has been subjected to medical malpractice, here’s how you can help:
1. Reassure your loved one
Hopefully the malpractice didn’t cause significant injury. Even so, there is always hope. Don’t let your family member fall into a sense of isolation that can lead to depression. Spend time with your loved one and provide reassurance that remedies (like counseling and support groups) are available when they’re ready.
Your family member may not think they need counseling, but depending on the consequences of the medical malpractice issue, they might be better off seeing a counselor. For example, if they lost the use of an arm or a leg or are disabled to the point where they can’t function as they once did, counseling will help them deal with the loss of independence. It’s common for people to believe they’re fine when they’re not. If you think your loved one is suffering emotionally, gently push them toward counseling.
2. Connect them with a lawyer
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice varies by state. Some states have shorter time limits, so if your family member is considering filing a lawsuit they should start talking to a medical malpractice attorney immediately.
They might be too shaken up or angry to make the call on their own, so gather a list of attorneys in the area and make a quick initial call on their behalf. Ask some simple questions to find out if there’s merit to your family member’s case. When you find a lawyer who confirms you have a case, ask your family member to call that lawyer to find out what options they have for pursuing the matter legally.
3. Research the doctor or hospital’s history
The doctor or hospital responsible for medical malpractice could have a history of claims. While your loved one is recovering from physical and emotional injury, search the internet for claims of malpractice. Unfortunately, the National Practitioner Data Bank created by Congress to track malpractice incidents is not open to public inquiry. Independent research is the only way to find out if their physician has a history of paid medical malpractice claims or disciplinary actions.
If their physician has a history of malpractice claims, make sure you tell their lawyer. A history of paid claims won’t necessarily win your case, but it will establish a foundation of validity for your claim.
4. Research your family member’s new doctor
Conduct your own research before your family member takes on a new physician or undergoing any type of invasive procedure. Research every doctor they see regardless of how their practice is run. For instance, your family member might feel more comfortable seeing a doctor with a private practice, but the risk for malpractice still exists.
Research from Stanford University shows that doctors with five or more paid medical malpractice claims are more likely to start a solo practice. Solo practitioners are subject to less oversight from administrators and peers.
The study’s author, Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph. D. says, “quality problems with [a] solo practitioner may be more difficult to detect and report. From a patient safety standpoint, this is the study’s most troubling finding. Frankly, solo practice is the last place we want practitioners who pose patient safety risks to be working.”
Doctors won’t publicize a history of malpractice claims. You can’t assume a solo practitioner is a safer choice than a doctor working within a group. Your loved one has already been through enough. Don’t risk them falling into the hands of another negligent physician.
5. Pursue a lawsuit when you have a case
Talking to a lawyer isn’t enough. When you have a case, pursue it. The only way your family member will regain any sense of wellbeing is by pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor or hospital who caused them harm.
It’s common for people to pass on the opportunity to pursue a claim because money won’t reverse their injuries, but there’s a bigger picture. Medical bills are expensive and will pile up quickly. The compensation recovered in a lawsuit can be used to cover medical bills, lost wages, and many attorneys can recover funds for pain and suffering. Money won’t reverse injuries from medical malpractice, but money can cover medical debt your loved one shouldn’t have to pay in the first place.