Only such behaviour of a physician which is objectively contrary to the current standards of medical knowledge and practice shall be deemed as a medical error. “Ordinary negligence”, which resides in an incorrectly performed injection, replacement of a medication or its wrong formulation are oversights which, in civil law, are treated as infringements of general rules of conduct and must not be considered as medical errors.

There are two types of medical errors: diagnostic or therapeutic. A diagnostic error occurs when a physician misdiagnoses an illness as a result of their conduct which is contrary to the rules of medical knowledge and practice. The most frequent causes of this type of error include: incorrect conduct of a medical interview, no ordering of additional tests or ordering of inappropriate tests, or wrong assessment of symptoms. A therapeutic error, on the other hand, consists of applying a wrong treatment methods from the viewpoint of currently applicable standards of medical knowledge and practice. Such an error occurs in case of an improper performance of a surgical operation, whereby a doctor removes only a part of the diseased tissues leaving other diseased tissues intact which, from the medical point of view, should also have been removed. If this, in turn, results in post-surgical complications and deterioration of patient’s health then a medical error has occurred.

The resolution whether in a specific case doctor’s conduct should be deemed as a medical error should be based on medical expert’s opinion. Such opinion should confirm that in a given case the doctor infringed the rules of professional conduct consistent with medical knowledge and practice. Given the fact that different diseases frequently have similar symptoms and the acknowledged methods of their diagnosis and treatment are often varied, it is extremely difficult to obtain an unequivocal opinion of a medical expert stating that in the specific case doctor’s conduct objectively infringed the standards of current medical knowledge and practice and thus the doctor is guilty of medical error. It is even more difficult to convince the court of the culpability of such an error.

dr Agata Marcinowska

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