Given how much of an effect malpractice has on how healthcare is practiced in the U.S., it is surprising how little it is discussed in medical school. This guest post by Allison Dean provides an overview of what medical students should know about medical malpractice.
There is something known as the “July Effect,” that every medical student should know about. Most medical students graduate and flock to hospitals on July 1st to begin their residencies; and during that month, according to a 2010 released report from the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “Inside medical institutions, in [U.S.]counties containing teaching hospitals, fatal medication errors spiked by 10% in July and in no other month [JR=1.10 (1.06–1.14)]. In contrast, there was no July spike in counties without teaching hospitals. The greater the concentration of teaching hospitals in a region, the greater the July spike (r=.80; P=.005). These findings held only for medication errors, not for other causes of death.” These findings were based on an analysis of all medication related deaths in the U.S. between 1979 and 2006.
And this only relates to medication related errors. It’s understandable and expected that as a student, you will make mistakes; students/new comers of every occupation make on-the-job mistakes. The problem is that despite all of your work being signed off on and supervised by a superior, you may be sued for your mistakes in this lawsuit-happy country.
Currently, most states allow medical students to be included in medical malpractice cases; generally, the schools that students attend take on the costs of their legal defense. However, the suits can negatively affect students in the long run in the following ways:
- Impede on education
Law suits take time, and a lot of time isn’t something medical students have. Apart from working an ungodly number of hours, medical students then have to take time to deal with the responsibilities inherent with the legal case. Additionally, out of fear of suit, schools may not allow students to engage in risky learning activities. Both of these results ultimately hinder medical students’ education.
- Hurt future job prospectsEven if a suit brought against a medical student is dismissed or dropped, it will follow him/her in the future. People will see that the student was involved in case through court information available to the public.
- Increased malpractice insurance when soughtBecause court related information is available to the public, when a student seeks malpractice insurance later in life, they could experience higher rates due to their case history.
Given the negative ramifications, some groups are taking action to prevent medical students from being involved in such cases. For instance, Arizona’s governor signed SB1429, a senate act that, if passed, will make medical students not liable in instances of medical malpractice if they were being supervised by a licensed medical professional at the time of their mistake. Hopefully, acts like Arizona’s will catch on in other states; but until then, medical students should be wary of the impact malpractice suits can have on their careers in the long run.
Allison Dean has a long-standing interest in educating medical students and the general public about medical malpractice and its effects on healthcare. Allison also writes about medical malpractice lawyers.