As a patient, you usually do what your healthcare providers tell you to do. Until something goes wrong, you never consider that they might commit a medical error. You submit yourself to every recommended diagnostic test. You take the medications your doctors prescribe. If a physician misses an important diagnosis, you might never know. If your health crashes and you figure it out, you will not likely feel compelled to make a claim or file a lawsuit.
As with many patients, you might have grown to adulthood with unwavering faith in the medical professionals who provide your care. You might believe that all doctors sacrifice everything for their patients. And, of course, they take an oath to do no harm.
Some of these diehard beliefs do you more harm than good. They may prevent you from noticing when a medical professional fails to meet a standard of care. If you have placed your doctor on a pedestal, you might not realize that they have committed a medical error until it is too late to recover.
Sadly, malpractice occurs every day in the Albany area and throughout New York State. Doctors prescribe the wrong medications and fail to conduct important diagnostic tests. They injure patients during surgical procedures. They fail to diagnose cancer patients when they had the means for timely intervention. Doctors perform negligent acts throughout the country, but statistics show that New York ranks number four in reported and paid malpractice claims.
What Is a Medical Error?
The National Institutes of Health article “Errors in Healthcare” defines a medical error as “the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended.” Essentially, it is a professional mistake committed by a doctor, a dentist, or some other healthcare professional. When the mistake is critical and involves a serious medical condition, it often causes the patient serious harm.
Medical errors usually fall within these categories.
- A medical professional fails to perform in a way that meets the prevailing standard of care.
- A medical professional intentionally or unintentionally fails to perform a necessary task or procedure.
- A medical professional commits a negligent act.
Although a medical error is a mistake, it does not always cause an injury. When it causes an injury or death, you, your family members, or your estate have a right to recover damages.
Types of Medical Errors in Albany, New York
Doctors in Albany do not harm you intentionally. They are simply human. Just like humans in every occupation, doctors make mistakes. Sadly, there is a big difference between the waiter who brings you the wrong entree and the doctor who performs the wrong surgery. If a teacher gives a student an incorrect grade, they can correct the error. When a doctor’s bad choices injure a newborn during delivery, they cannot take back the harm they caused.
When most people make a mistake while doing their jobs, it is often correctable and it is not usually life-changing. If a doctor or other healthcare professional commits a medical error, it is not always irreversible, but sometimes it is. A medical error sometimes injures you, disables you, or worsens your existing medical condition. When the harm is particularly profound, it can cost you your life.
In New York State, healthcare professionals practice medicine in many specialty areas. They perform numerous simple and complex procedures, and their schedules often force them to rush from one patient to the next. The potential for error is built into a system that functions in this way.
That is why medical errors often involve acts that occur over and over again.
- Failure to diagnose and/or treat a life-threatening illness
- Inappropriate intervention during a complicated childbirth
- Prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage
- Continuously prescribing and dispensing addictive medications
- Pharmaceutical errors: Dispensing the wrong medicine or dosage, improperly labeling medication containers
- Surgical errors: Accidental incisions, left behind items, wrong procedures
- Anesthesia errors: Administering too much or too little anesthesia
- Disfiguring scars due to treatment
- Inappropriate treatment or mental health practices
Unless you have researched medical error cases in Albany, Albany County, and New York State, you would never imagine how often they occur. Several local and national organizations actively track and document medical errors. You will find the information through online resources. The statistics are easily accessible to organizations and patients who want or need to know.
Research Your New York Doctor’s History
Healthcare professionals have a duty to act professionally and perform according to the prevailing standard of care. Sadly, they have no obligation to explain prior acts of medical negligence, malpractice, or misconduct. Fortunately, you can find some of the information you need online. In New York, you can easily find information to help you evaluate any gnawing gut reactions you feel in your doctor’s presence. You can also access much of the information they probably do not want you to know.
New York State Physician Profile
Few patients check out their doctors before an appointment, but perhaps they should. The Health Department website, New York Physician Profile, provides physician background information and answers questions most patients never think about asking.
- Medical education
- License number
- Disciplinary Actions
- Hospital Affiliations
- Prior Malpractice or other legal actions filed against them
The National Practitioner Data Bank
The NPDB online resource provides an overview of Adverse Action Reports and Medical Malpractice Payment Reports for the entire country. The data includes New York State’s medical error/malpractice statistics.
Out of all 50 states, New York ranks number four (behind California, Texas, and Florida) in total adverse reports and malpractice payments made over the past 10 years.
- Adverse Action Reports, 11,917: This statistic shows the number of reported disciplinary actions throughout the state. Adverse Action Reports document privilege revocations and restorations, drug enforcement incidents, and other actions by state medical authorities. Of the actions taken against New York practitioners, 9,494 involved state licensure events.
- Malpractice Payment Reports, 16,420: This statistic shows the number of reported payments made for New York malpractice settlements or judgments. Payments ranged from $50,000 to $2 million.
The NPDB also provides information about individual doctors and their performance. The individualized data provides information for pre-employment screening processes. Only hospitals and medical practices have access to an individual practitioner’s professional history.
Medical Professionals in New York
Albany and New York State’s medical error statistics reflect the high numbers of medical professionals, care facilities, and patients in the state. New York has a thriving medical industry, and plenty of patients need the services it provides. To meet their needs, healthcare professionals practice in many fields. They perform numerous types of procedures, and they often rush from one patient to the next. The potential for error is built into any system that functions in this way.
Many medical professionals begin their careers in New York’s 17 public and private medical schools. Physicians graduate from medical schools with campuses in Albany and throughout the state. They complete their residencies in local and regional healthcare facilities. Many receive their licenses and remain in Albany and New York State, where they sharpen their medical skills. Physicians practice specialties and subspecialties such as internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and others.
Statistics from the New York State Education Department Office of Professions confirm the number of licensed physicians and assistants in New York.
Total in NY State: 77,243
Total in Albany County: 1,801
New Licenses Issued Statewide in a Recent Five-Year Period
- Physicians: 5,741
- Physician’s assistants: 1,574
- Special Assistants 14
New Licenses Issued in Albany County in a Recent Five-Year Period
- Physicians: 1,801
- Physician’s assistants: 347
- Special Assistants 4
It Is Not Just Doctors
- In New York, plenty of patients need the treatment and hospitalization the state’s medical industry provides. They receive care from 214 New York hospitals and 620 nursing homes. Medical practitioners treat patients in office-based surgery practices, clinics, and diagnostic and treatment centers.
It is not just physicians and surgeons treating patients. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 42 types of healthcare occupations. Their specialties include audiology, genetic counseling, radiation therapy, and many others. Physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and a few other medical specialties are among the fastest-growing occupations in the country. In Albany, the NYSED Office of Professions oversees licensing and registration of New York’s medical practitioners.
Who Is Responsible for a Medical Error?
When healthcare providers present themselves as medical professionals, they must act and perform accordingly. As a patient, you have a right to believe that they have the knowledge and skills to treat you. If a doctor or facility commits a negligent act or fails to treat you based on the prevailing standard of care, the actions often constitute medical error or malpractice. Sometimes a healthcare provider performs professionally but still cannot cure your illness. Even though the outcome is devastating, in most instances failure to cure does not constitute a medical error or a malpractice act.
Responsibility for a medical error-related injury usually lies with the professional who actively committed the error, omission, or negligent act. Pinpointing the specific professional is sometimes difficult when many medical professionals participate in your care. If you cannot identify the specific medical provider, you have other avenues for pursuing your claim. If the treating professional has an employee/employer or agency relationship with the hospital, clinic, or medical practice where you received your treatment, they may share responsibility.
Doctors May Only Tell You What They Want You to Know
If your doctor diagnoses you with a digestive disorder and it turns out to be cancer, they probably will not call it an error if you do not. If a physician has prescribed years of treatment based on the wrong diagnosis, they might switch you to the appropriate medication but they will not necessarily tell you why.
When patients realize they sustained an injury due to a medical error, physicians must deal with the consequences.
- Medical license revocation
- Diminished reputation
- Lost patients
- Personal injury payments to injured patients
- Legal costs
- Increased malpractice insurance premiums
Healthcare professionals do not tell you about their past mistakes either, and most patients do not think about asking. You may never know if multiple patients filed malpractice suits against your doctor or if the state registered a disciplinary action against them. Physicians do not talk about their drug problems or explain how they only committed a medical error because they were drinking that day. Doctors hold onto their secrets to protect their reputations.
Of course, that is their issue, not yours. As a patient, you should not wait until your doctor commits a medical error before you research their history. Most medical professionals have strong reputations, but you need to know about the few who do not.
You Can File a Formal Complaint
- If you experience a service or treatment issue with a physician, physician assistants, or specialist assistants, you may file a complaint through the New York State Health Department Office of Professional Medical Conduct. The site provides guidance and past complaint examples to help you determine if a complaint is appropriate.
- If you want to file a complaint against a medical professional other than a physician, a physician assistant, or a specialist assistant, you can submit a complaint to the NYSED Offices of Professions. OP oversees licensing and registration for over 50 medical and non-medical professions.
Filing a misconduct complaint is an administrative procedure. It can result in a physician license revocation or other disciplinary action. If you wish to recover financial damages, you must file a claim or lawsuit against the medical professional. Medical malpractice insurers usually investigate medical error claims.
Should You Have an Attorney to Handle Your Medical Error Case?
The prudent answer is yes. Medical error cases are complicated, even when they involve simple circumstances. You should get a personal injury attorney to intervene on your behalf. Before your legal process moves forward, a licensed medical professional must verify that your case has merit. You must deal with insurance companies, attorneys, and you must eventually confront your healthcare provider. Attorneys investigate your case and deal with malpractice insurance companies and their lawyers. They work on your behalf to produce the best results possible.
When you schedule an appointment with a lawyer, your initial legal consultation is free. You can discuss your case with an experienced legal professional and learn about options for resolving your claim.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.