Mistakes in treatment and unsafe practices at health care facilities can have an enormous impact on patient welfare and the overall efficacy of the health care system. It is important that problems be properly reported so that regulatory boards can reduce the likelihood of future errors by creating solutions to common treatment mishaps and limiting the practices of repeat offenders.
This article discusses how patients can report mistakes in medical care, and the relationship between filing a report and filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
All medical errors should be reported to a state’s medical complaint board. The process of filing a report and the subsequent proceedings vary significantly by state. In general, the patient will fill out a form identifying all of the relevant parties and describing the mistake that occurred, as well as any harm that resulted from it. The contact information for the medical complaint boards of all 50 states can be found at Consumers' Checkbook.
It is important to understand that in some states, after a patient submits a report, the board may never contact the patient or sanction the doctor. This does not mean that the board ignored the report. It probably means that the doctor has a relatively strong professional record and that the board viewed the mistake as an isolated incident. However, the report is still important because if the board receives a similar complaint about the same doctor in the near future, the board might be much more likely to sanction the doctor.
The purpose of filing a report with a state’s medical complaint board is to provide the professional medical community with information that a doctor or hospital is not meeting the standards of the profession. But a patient might also want to notify the general public of the mistake so other potential patients can avoid the doctor or hospital. There are a variety of websites that allow patients to rank the quality of care they receive from doctors and hospitals. Since the state medical complaint boards do not generally make public all of the reports that they receive, these websites can be the most effective way for patients to inform other patients of their positive or negative experiences with particular doctors or hospitals. For more information, see How To Find Malpractice Complaints Against a Doctor.
A patient does not need to submit a medical opinion clearly indicating that a mistake was made in order to file a report when something goes wrong in the provision of care. People generally understand that patients reporting medical mistakes are usually not doctors themselves. So, when a patient believes that a mistake was made, a report should include as many details and as much firsthand information as possible, but medical jargon isn't necessary.
No. It is critical to understand that filing a report does not initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit, nor does it automatically help to establish medical negligence in any case you do eventually file. A report filed with the state board can only affect the ability of the doctor or hospital to continue practicing medicine. The purpose of the report is not to compensate the patient for harm caused as a result of the mistake.
On the other hand, the purpose of a lawsuit for medical malpractice is to get compensation for harm caused by a mistake by a doctor or hospital. Such a lawsuit must be filed in court, and patients should usually consult an attorney before initiating the process.
When a patient files a report with a state medical complaint board, the doctor or hospital (along with an associated insurance company) will be informed. The insurance company may view the report as the precursor to a medical malpractice lawsuit, and it might offer the patient money to settle the issue. A patient should be very hesitant to accept this offer. Once the offer is accepted, the patient will no longer be able to sue for medical malpractice over the incident, since the signing of a release of rights would be part of the deal.
If unsure, the most prudent course of action in this situation is to contact a medical malpractice attorney. The attorney should be able to provide a reasonable estimate of the potential award in a lawsuit and the likelihood of success. With that information, the patient should be able to better determine whether the insurance company’s offer is reasonable.
If a patient wishes to hire an attorney to pursue a medical malpractice action, it's best to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Upon request, the attorney will likely assist the patient in filing the report with the state medical complaint board in order to ensure that the patient does not make any statements that could be detrimental to a future lawsuit.
If you think you need legal advice and want to find a good lawyer, see The Right Lawyer for Your Medical Malpractice Claim.
However, since reporting doctor or hospital malpractice with a state medical board does not initiate a lawsuit, it is not necessary to contact an attorney prior to filing the report in most cases.