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Medical Malpractice and the Meaning of Informed Consent

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Medical malpractice occurs when a professional health care provider gives poor treatment that causes harm to a patient. Learn your rights in getting medical care and what can constitute medical malpractice.

All doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other health care providers have a legal duty to provide adequate medical care to patients and to anyone needing emergency medical care. Doctors do not have to accept everyone as a patient. This means that they can refuse to take a person as a patient for reasons such as lacking medical knowledge or experience in a particular area.

However, doctors cannot refuse to take a person as a patient because of age, gender, marital status, medical condition, national ethic origin, physical or mental disability, political affiliation, race, religion, or socioeconomic status.

If a health care provider fails to provide proper medical care, a person can sue them for damages by bringing a claim for medical malpractice.

There are different types of medical malpractice, some including when a health care provider is negligent and/or when a doctor does not obtain informed consent from a patient. If you are concerned with a doctor’s conduct or the treatment you received, you can make a complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC, the body that licenses doctors in British Columbia.

What is “Negligence”?

A doctor or health care provider is negligent if they fail to provide the standard of care a reasonable doctor or health care provider practising in the same area would provide in similar circumstances. If the negligence causes injuries or illness to a person, the doctor or health care provider may be liable to pay damages, money to pay for the harm done, to the person harmed.

Please note that it is not enough for the doctor to say “I did my best.” If the doctor should have known better, they may be liable.

For example:

You visit a doctor because you are not feeling well and the doctor prescribes medication to treat the symptoms you describe. The medication harms you and was not appropriate given your medical history and current medication. If other doctors with a similar type of medical practice would not have prescribed the drug, the doctor may be negligent.

Note that doctors and health care providers are not liable for every mistake. The law in British Columbia recognizes that doctors often have to make quick decisions without the best information. The key question is: did the doctor make a reasonable decision that other reasonable doctors would have made in the same situation – even if later it turns out to be the incorrect decision that causes a bad result.

For example:

You complain to your doctor of severe head pain. Your doctor examines, notes your medical history and described symptoms and orders the right tests. Using the results of this examination, your doctor decides you have an ordinary tension headache which will eventually go away. Subsequently, you discover your doctor was incorrect and the pain was not caused by a tension headache. In this scenario, although the doctor’s diagnosis was incorrect, he or she still provided the proper standard of care, the same care that other doctors would have provided given the circumstances. Therefore, it is likely that the doctor was not negligent.

Please note the standard of care varies with the level of speciality of the doctor. The standard may be higher for specialists.

In summary, not every mistake or incorrect result automatically means there was negligence. A doctor may take all the right steps and a mistake may still occur.

Questions About British Columbia’s Laws?

Do you have any questions about medical malpractice for the team at Spraggs? We’d love to hear from you. Contact one of our lawyers in Vancouver today.