Medical Malpractice: How Doctor Negligence Might Have Risen in COVID-19 Times

Haste certainly makes waste. When you have no other option but to speed things up, you might lose efficiency and, in the long run, effectiveness. As the medical system of America was overwhelmed by the virus, it seems medical malpractice may have risen. The data points show that discipline to curb bad doctors has plummeted. And that could mean one thing: more medical errors unnoticed. 

Well, you really can’t put all the blame on the medical practitioners. This is no ordinary time. In the recent history of the land, there has never been a plague that killed over half a million Americans in such a short period. At the closing of last year, in December 2020, the situation was so dire in California that intensive care unit (ICU) beds ran out. Worse, doctors and nurses were also running short. Indeed, it’s one nightmare no doctor would ever want to see. 

So, it’s really putting everyone on edge. In such a scenario, patients can easily suffer. As dead bodies pile up, the need to have medical malpractitioners answer for their inadequacies is paramount. The million-dollar question is how. 

A Disturbing Drop

Think of it as an ominous sign. In a sense, you can also blame the virus. As virus-infected patients overwhelmed hospitals and infected medical health workers, doctor discipline appears to have dropped. Data show emergency action versus medical doctors’ licenses has dropped to a disturbing 59% from April to June 2020 compared to the same period the year before that. 

In April alone of 2020, emergency license suspensions along with restrictions dropped as high as 85%. Many contributing factors have been cited in this reduction of disciplinary action. Chief of which is the shortage of manpower and medical doctors. However, all these can spell trouble for the afflicted. 

A relaxed approach could mean more medical malpractice errors may have been committed over the course of the pandemic but had slipped through the fingers of state boards. 

Take note that it takes a long time for a misconduct allegation to translate into disciplinary action for the medical practitioner. For one, the task of proving medical negligence in court is taxing. It takes a lot of back and forth. This is the reason why reliable court stenographers are essential to make the proceedings as smooth as possible. 

For instance, an allegation of medical malpractice in the form of theft from the patient’s money done in 2016 could result in the exclusion of the doctor from the state list in 2018. 

What’s Behind the Drop

Well, the issue could be systemic. As the virus went to town, courts also shut down for a long period. That means complaints from patients could not be processed as fast as they used to. And to make matters worse, hospitals also took time to produce documents needed by plaintiff lawyers. In short, everything came to a screeching halt. 

As COVID-19 patients overcrowded hospitals, humongous efforts had to be made to save lives. What’s more, many staff got sick as they caught the virus, in turn making hospitals shorthanded. If all that is not enough, New York Governor Cuomo shielded medical doctors and nurses from lawsuits while actively fighting the virus. You can call his executive order the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

Patients in Danger

But all that can certainly put patients at a huge disadvantage. Medical malpractice laws are a way to protect the afflicted. It’s no surprise many physicians have sleepless nights because of it. The way things could go wrong in a hurried life-and-death environment can certainly unnerve doctors. That doctors have twice the rate of suicide compared to ordinary folks recently attests to this. 

And as discussed by David Feldman, M.D., the chief medical officer for America’s biggest doctor-owned medical malpractice insurance company (The Doctors Company Group), misdiagnosis is at the heart of medical malpractice. When such an error happens, the life of the patient could be in jeopardy. 

This becomes even a tougher call because of the virus. Why? Simply put, everything is an uphill climb now these days. Clinicians are doubly stressed. Cases are also growing by leaps and bounds in number. All that certainly compounds the ability of medical practitioners to arrive at accurate diagnoses. 

Even remote clinics are also giving doctors a hard time. Even with all the technology, a virtual visit isn’t as comprehensive as an actual real-life clinic visit. 

But slowly, things have eased up. With the vaccine available and the economy slowly returning to normal, the healthcare industry should get back on its feet. And better treatments should be ahead.