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Understanding the Root Causes of Medical Malpractice: A Closer Look

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Medical malpractice is committed by medical care providers.  Medical care providers in Arkansas are defined as a physician, certified registered nurse, anesthetist, physician’s assistant, nurse, optometrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, dentist, podiatrist, pharmacist, veterinarian, hospital, nursing home, community mental health center, psychologist, clinic, or not-for-profit home healthcare agency licensed by the state or otherwise lawfully providing professional medical care or services, or an officer, employee, or agent thereof acting in the course and scope of employment in the providing of such medical care or medical services.  See Ark. Code Ann. § 16-114-201.  Medical care providers in Oklahoma are defined as a person that is engaging in the healing arts. See 76 Okl. St. Ann. § 20.1.

Medical Malpractice is a serious issue that can have devastating consequences for patients and their families.  Medical malpractice is defined by the failure to meet the standard of care of the medical care provider. Those consequences are Falls, Bed Sores and Sepsis. Falls are defined as an event that results in a person coming to rest inadvertently on the ground. Bed Sore is defined as Damage to an area of the skin caused by constant pressure on the area for a long time. This pressure can lessen blood flow to the affected area, which may lead to tissue damage and tissue death.  Sepsis is defined as the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. 

When a medical provider fails to meet the expected standard of care, resulting in harm or injury to a patient, such as those cited above, it raises important questions about the root causes of these errors. The root causes are usually dealing with short staffing due to trying to save money instead of providing care to meet the standard of care. While every case is unique, there are several common factors, which this list is not exclusive, that contribute to medical malpractice. Let’s explore some of the main causes:

Communication Breakdown: Communication is defined as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Effective communication is essential in healthcare settings, yet breakdowns in communication between healthcare providers can lead to errors and oversights. Miscommunication regarding patient information, treatment plans, or test results can have serious consequences for patient safety. Improving communication strategies and promoting a culture of collaboration among healthcare teams can help mitigate this risk.

Lack of Proper Training or Experience:  Training means the process of increasing the knowledge and skills of an employee for doing a particular job. It seeks to improve the job performance and work behavior of those trained

Experience: practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity.

Healthcare professionals are entrusted with the responsibility of providing competent and compassionate care to their patients. However, inadequate training or lack of experience can result in errors or lapses in judgment. Continuous education and training programs, along with mentorship opportunities for less experienced practitioners, are essential for ensuring that healthcare providers have the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver high-quality care.

Fatigue as a result of short staffing.  Fatigue is defined as extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion. Short staffing or  “Short-staffed shifts” occur when the census – the number of admitted patients – surpasses a unit’s maximum capacity per nurse set by standards of quality and safety.

Healthcare professionals often work long hours in high-stress environments, which can lead to fatigue. When healthcare providers are overworked or emotionally drained, their ability to make sound decisions and maintain focus on patient care may be compromised. Addressing issues related to workload, staffing levels, and workplace stress can help mitigate the risk of errors caused by fatigue and burnout.

Systemic Issues and Inadequate Resources: In some cases, medical malpractice can be attributed to systemic issues within healthcare organizations, such as understaffing, inadequate resources, or outdated technology. These factors can create barriers to delivering safe and effective care, increasing the likelihood of errors and adverse outcomes for patients. Investing in infrastructure improvements, staffing levels, and technology upgrades can help address these systemic issues and improve patient safety.

Failure to Follow Established Protocols and Guidelines: Evidence-based guidelines and protocols are designed to standardize care practices and minimize the risk of errors. However, healthcare providers may fail to adhere to these guidelines due to various factors, including time constraints, lack of awareness, or personal biases. Emphasizing the importance of evidence-based practice and providing support and resources to help healthcare providers implement guidelines effectively can help reduce the incidence of medical malpractice.

Inadequate Communication with Patients: Communication is defined as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. Effective communication between healthcare providers and patients is essential for ensuring informed decision-making and promoting patient safety. However, inadequate communication with patients regarding diagnosis, treatment options, and potential risks can contribute to misunderstandings and adverse outcomes. Improving communication skills among healthcare providers and providing patients with clear and understandable information about their care can help mitigate this risk.

While these are some of the main causes of medical malpractice, it’s important to recognize that each case is unique and may involve a combination of factors. By identifying and addressing these root causes, healthcare organizations can work towards improving patient safety and reducing the incidence of medical errors. Additionally, fostering a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement is essential for promoting a healthcare system that prioritizes patient well-being above all else.