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Infection Malpractice: What You Need to Know

Medical malpractice is an increasingly serious problem in the U.S. and around the world. A recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins estimated that about one-quarter of a million people die each year due to preventable medical errors. This makes medical practice the third most common cause of death in the U.S., second only to cancer and heart attacks.

Many incidents of medical malpractice are infection-related, particularly hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). While it is possible to obtain an infection during a non-surgical or light surgical procedure (such as a minor dermatological procedure) this vast majority of infections occur in the hospital setting. If you or someone you love has experienced an infection due to medical malpractice, you could be eligible for significant damages.

In this article, we’ll review the basics of infection malpractice and what potential victims need to know. We’ll answer questions including:

  • What should I do if I think I have acquired an infection due to medical malpractice?
  • How widespread is the problem of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs)?
  • How do hospital-acquired infections occur?
  • How do I know if malpractice really occurred?

What should I do if I think I have acquired an infection due to medical malpractice?

If you believe that you or someone you love has acquired an infection due to medical malpractice, you should take the following steps:

  • Find a new doctor as quickly as possible: If you’ve got an infection, whether in a hospital or outpatient setting, you’ll want to make sure that you can get a second opinion on treatment. A doctor can also attest to the potential source of the infection as a possible medical witness.
  • Record your symptoms: Keep a written record of your symptoms and your interactions with all of your healthcare providers. This can be essential to determine the extent and intensity of your infection and can be shared with your new doctor. This may also serve as potential evidence of medical malpractice later on in the process.
  • Request your medical records: In the case of infections, particularly HAIs, doctors and hospitals know that they’re liable. For that reason, they may attempt to conceal, alter, or destroy medical records which could provide legal evidence of malpractice. For that reason, you’ll want to get copies of your medical records ASAP.
  • Call a lawyer ASAP: In addition to getting a new doctor and requesting your medical records, you’ll want to contact a qualified and experienced medical malpractice attorney ASAP. A lawyer can walk you through the entire process of filing an insurance claim and what exactly to say and not to say to medical providers and insurance companies.
  • Don’t take any settlements: In many situations, an insurance company representative, or someone from the hospital itself, may attempt to offer you an immediate settlement. Avoid accepting this or signing any related papers at all costs. Most initial settlements will offer a very small amount that will not compensate you for the long-term pain and suffering that medical malpractice-related infections can cause.

How widespread is the problem of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs)?

According to statistics from the National Nosocomial Infections Surveillance (NNIS) up to 10% of all acute care hospital patients will get at least one infection during their hospital stay. Unfortunately, HAIs have become more resilient and resistant to typical antibiotics, as well as becoming easier to spread. This is generally because these infections adapt to antibiotic use to become more deadly over time.

MSRA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is an antibiotic-resistant bacteria, is one of the most dangerous varieties of bacteria that can lead to hospital-acquired infections. MSRA caused nearly 20,000 deaths in 2017, out of nearly 120,000 infections, giving it an incredibly high fatality rate of more than 15%.

Other types of dangerous infections (often referred to as superbugs) include:

  • Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and Carbapenem-Resistant Klebsiella Pneumoniae (CRKP)
  • Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE)
  • Necrotizing Fasciitis
  • Clostridium Difficile (C.Diff)

If not treated properly, an infection can lead to sepsis. Sepsis symptoms include increased heart rate, fever, increased white blood cell count, labored breathing, and full-body inflammation. Sepsis can be extremely severe, with between 20-40% of patients dying, making it a major cause of death in hospitals. Sepsis can also lead to severe internal organ damage.

How do hospital-acquired infections occur?

There are a variety of ways that hospital-acquired infections and other types of medical malpractice-related infections can occur. These include:

  • Hospital cleanliness: Patient bed closeness, HVAC systems, water cleanliness, surface cleanliness, and the cleanliness of items like gloves, syringes, IVs, and other essential pieces of medical equipment.
  • Provider cleanliness: This includes handwashing and clothing cleanliness, as well as the care used with IVs, medication administrators, catheters, and intubation.
  • Patient risk: While patient risk is not the direct source of an HAI, risk factors include the patient’s current immunity capacity, their time of stay in a hospital, and the intensity of the injury they are being treated for.
  • Emergency room errors: If a healthcare provider does not diagnose issues like meningitis, sepsis, or other serious infections, it could be malpractice.
  • Bedsores: If a patient suffers from untreated bedsores, pressure ulcers, skin sores, or other issues, and these lead to infection, it could easily lead to sepsis and may also count as malpractice.

How do I know if malpractice really occurred?

Sometimes an HAI or other medical-related infection is unavoidable, but in many cases, it is truly the result of preventable medical errors. To determine whether your healthcare provider actually committed malpractice, you can refer to a common legal test known as the “4 D’s of Malpractice.”

  • Duty: This means that the medical provider had a direct duty to help you. A doctor assisting a patient on the street may not have a duty to help a patient, but a surgeon for a pre-planned procedure would.
  • Dereliction: This means that the provider deviated significantly in their actions from what a “reasonable” medical professional with similar training would have done.
  • Damages: The patient must have sustained ill-health or real damages from the procedure or resulting infection.
  • Direct Cause: The medical error committed by the healthcare professional must be directly linked to the symptoms, illness, or condition experienced by the patient.

As we mentioned earlier, it’s essential to get a second or third doctor to help determine the extent of your infection and to help document your symptoms for legal purposes. A doctor can do several things to determine if you have an infection, and if so, how severe it is. These include:

  • Lab tests: These may include urine, blood, spinal taps, throat swabs, and stool samples.
  • Biopsies: Small tissue samples
  • Imaging: MRIs, X-rays, and computerized tomography can help confirm an infection.

What to Do If You or a Loved One Has Suffered From Infection Malpractice

If you or someone you love has experienced medical malpractice that leads to an infection, contact the expert attorneys at Clark & Associates today. As medical malpractice experts, our attorneys have gotten our clients millions of dollars in court judgments and jury settlements.

Whether you need funds to pay for additional medical care, lost income, or pain and suffering, our attorneys will work as hard as possible to fight for your rights. Call Clark & Associates today to learn more. 405-235-8488

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