Measuring Psychological and Physical Damage From Medical Malpractice

There are many myths about medical malpractice, perhaps the biggest being that most cases are either frivolous or a never event. In fact, most are instances of negligence, a common problem that applies to all professions. Medical malpractice is when a doctor does the wrong thing, despite training and regulation that says otherwise.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a never event is a major but preventable error, such as removing the wrong organ or giving a patient the wrong blood type. While these grab the headlines and the horror movies, they aren’t frequent.

Many medical malpractice cases concern infections or improperly maintained clinics or operating rooms. Another major threat, though, is the psychological damage that follows after a medical professional makes a mistake — or worse, unethical behavior.

Hidden cameras

Patient confidentiality and privacy are basic rights of medical care. In a terrible story from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a long tenured gynecologist violated patients with secret recordings of their exams, leading to a lawsuit against the hospital for $190 million. The victims weren’t cut or injured on the outside, but they’ve clearly suffered from lost sleep, depression and significant but heard to measure psychological pain.

Johns Hopkins acted quickly after the discovery, but its spokeswoman notes, “All hospitals must rely to some extent on the integrity of their caregivers.” Johns Hopkins agreed to the settlement, but their comments leave concern that it can happen again.

Measuring pain and suffering

In this class-action lawsuit, the challenge is determining pain and suffering. The overall settlement is $190 million, but it will be divided between more than 8,000 women who saw the doctor over 25 years. Physical injuries are much easier to measure than the humiliation and exploitation these women have gone through. Unfortunately, proof of suffering is far more complex than holding up an x-ray.

In this case, a team of interviewers with backgrounds in psychology and social work spoke with patients to gauge how their lives have changed since the incident. Some expressed disgust but relatively little disruption while others, including parents with children who saw the doctor, underwent therapy and other treatments. Based on the committee, payments could vary by nearly $25,000 per victim. Pain and suffering differ from person to person, and the measurements are imprecise and delicate for experts to determine.

Investigations and research

In any medical malpractice case, investigation is essential to the process, both to find answers and to provide adequate value for damages. A malpractice attorney will conduct a thorough professional review to determine the how and why of a claim before taking it to court. This gives answers and lays an important foundation for anyone who has been wronged.

In cases of serious psychological suffering, it requires expert skill and diagnosis to prove that what we as humans already know: that pain always goes beyond the surface.

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