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Staff negligence is as dangerous as doctors' errors

When hear the term "medical malpractice," you might imagine a doctor misdiagnosing a patient or making an error with potent medications. The fact is that errors and medical negligence can be committed all along the chain, including hospital personnel you may not have considered.

For example, a receptionist working the front desk at a hospital has a duty to alert nurses and doctors when a patient arrives in particular distress. That staff member may also be designated to let the doctor know when a patient with a serious condition has missed an appointment. If that individual doesn't understand the severity of a situation or recognize that a patient has been waiting an abnormally long time, it could result in a patient not getting the proper medical attention in a timely manner.

Hospital malpractice

Medical malpractice lawsuits are not necessarily against the physician in charge of your care or the surgeon who performs a procedure. Many licensed professionals and hospital workers may be involved, directly or indirectly, in patient care and adverse outcomes.

  • There could be negligence on the part of other M.D.’s who are employed by the hospital, such as a radiologist who misreads an X-ray, an anesthesiologist who gives the wrong dose, or on-staff hospitalist who discharges a patient with a life-threatening condition.
  • Many errors are committed by other medical personnel who serve critical functions, such as physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, anesthetists and lab technicians.
  • And there are lay personnel whose actions or decisions can contribute to tragedies: hospital administrators, clinic managers, admissions clerks, orderlies, maintenance workers and security staff.

Staff members need to be trained to handle patients with care, regardless of how often they come into contact with them. Even a janitor needs to understand the risks to patients in a hospital or medical facility, so he or she can help mitigate them. For instance, a biological hazard in the hospital needs to be disposed of properly. Failing to follow protocol could result in a patient coming into contact with it, which could cause illness. This might be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Who can be sued for malpractice?

Nurses and staffers are not immune to lawsuits, but typically those employees do not have malpractice insurance. More often, the facility itself (as the employer of the negligent staff member) is named in a lawsuit. Thus you might file a lawsuit against the hospital instead of  -- or in addition to-- suing individual physicians.

Proving hospital malpractice requires evidence of negligent hiring, training or supervision, or evidence that employees directly harmed the patient or enabled an accident by deviating from the standard of care. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can determine if you have a viable lawsuit. 

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