Medical negligence claims are a constant risk for nurses and healthcare professionals. In their service to the public, they have a legal duty to ensure adequate caution and care in their work, leading to the best possible outcome for their patients.

However, accidents and complications can often occur in the complex work that medical professionals undertake. Understanding medical negligence and taking adequate precautions can help healthcare professionals to manage the risk of a lawsuit.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence is a wide-ranging term which covers situations of medical malpractice and other instances where a healthcare professional has failed to meet reasonable expectations in their treatment of a patient.

It can be defined as any act or omission which has breached duty of care and led to a patient suffering injury or damages which otherwise could have been avoided.

Common types include:

  • Medication errors
  • Errors during surgery and emergency treatment
  • Medical misdiagnosis
  • Informed consent issues
  • Pregnancy and childbirth issues

In some cases, unavoidable or unintentional complications during medical procedures could lead to a poor outcome for a patient and the subsequent filing of a lawsuit.

Intention does not factor into negligence trials, instead, breach of adequate duty of care, causation of damage and responsibility for that damage must all be proven.

Risks of a Medical Negligence Claim

Being accused of medical negligence or malpractice can cause damage to the reputation and future earning potential of a healthcare professional and their practice.

The stress and burden of an impending lawsuit, as well as the circumstances surrounding the alleged negligence can also lead to compromised competency of the healthcare professional due to a range of psychological factors.

Immediate costs for legal representation, such as lawyers and court fees can be an unexpected expense for a medical practice which may not be prepared with adequate funds. The cost of an out-of-court settlement can also be very expensive, especially when it is apparent that a court will find in favour of the claimant.

While the majority of claims are settled privately before an official court trial is underway, damage to reputation within a practice, its industry and local community can still lead to future costs and complications.

How Can You Protect Your Business Against Medical Negligence Claims?

Accidents happen, which is why it’s important to be prepared in case you or your business are found responsible for a claim. Having appropriate insurance is a necessity to ensure you can cover the cost of both a lawsuit and potential compensation.

Medical indemnity insurance can help to cover the costs of defending a claim, compensating claimants and providing re-training for staff. This insurance is usually offered on a ‘claims made’ basis, which means that to claim, an incident must occur and be notified to your insurer during periods where you are covered.

Legislation in countries like Australia makes it compulsory for a medical professional to be covered by appropriate indemnity insurance in order to practice and safely provide their services to members of the public.

Insurance policies can vary depending on location, provider and other circumstances, however an experienced insurance broker can help you to understand the details and limitations of your policy to ensure you’re correctly covered and are able to claim.

While insurance is a necessary safeguard, medical professionals and their practices should also aim to reduce the potential for negligence lawsuits to occur. Measures to achieve this can include accurate record keeping of all events in the medical practice, ensuring confidentiality of practice and patient information and relevant staff training.

Keeping your medical practice and practitioners insured and alert can ensure informed service to the public and best protect your business.