People can sue health care professionals if they believe they have been injured. A wide variety of causes of action and legal proceedings may be involved. However, successful medical malpractice lawsuits generally require proof of all of the following:
The care provided was below the ordinary standard of care that would be provided by similar health care professionals under similar circumstances.
A professional relationship existed between the health care professional and the injured person.
The person was harmed because of the deviation from the standard of care.
(See also Overview of Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Care Overview of Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Care Most adults have the legal right to make their own health care decisions. However, poor health can jeopardize people’s ability to exercise their legal rights. Safeguarding these rights requires... read more .)
Concern about lawsuits sometimes puts pressure on doctors to act in ways that are not necessarily in the best interest of their patients. For example, to avoid even a small risk of a lawsuit, doctors may order tests or treatments that have more harms than benefits to their patient; such practices are referred to as defensive medicine. Risks of unnecessary tests can include radiation exposure and the occasional false test result, which can lead to further unnecessary tests, some of which may have complications (such as injury or radiation exposure), or even a false diagnosis and unnecessary treatment. If the chance of finding a problem that requires treatment is extremely small, the harms of testing may outweigh the benefits.
Patients should ask their doctor to discuss the relative benefits and harms Balancing risks and benefits Before recommending treatment, doctors weigh the potential risk of harm from a treatment against its potential benefit. (See also Overview of Medical Decision Making and The Science of Medicine... read more of any test as well as proposed treatment before action is taken. Most doctors understand that the best defense against malpractice lawsuits is providing excellent medical care and building close, trusting, collaborative relationships with their patients.