Medical Malpractice Can Be Criminal

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It doesn't happen often, but some doctors are charged with criminal offenses when they commit medical malpractice. This means that in addition to any civil lawsuits that patients file against them, doctors could also face criminal charges - charges that could result in prison time if courts convict them.

A recent example of this type of case is the charging of a neurosurgeon working at the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas. A few weeks ago, prosecutors in Dallas County charged him with five counts of aggravated assault and another count of causing injury to a child or an elderly or disabled person. He was held on $600,000 bail.

The charges of assault stem from the doctor allegedly leaving a sponge inside a patient. In another instance, he was charged with operating on the wrong part of a patient's spine. Another patient hemorrhaged so badly that she died; another suffered a stroke.

In addition to a possible criminal conviction, the surgeon faces civil lawsuits and disciplinary action. The Texas Medical Board suspended his license, citing failure to follow standard procedures and failure to recognize complications when they occurred.

A case in Michigan that involved a doctor who falsely diagnosed cancer and then billed for treatment resulted in a 45-year prison sentence.

Doctors face other types of criminal charges when they violate standards of conduct. A Florida doctor was charged after filming under a woman's skirt. Authorities had charged him previously for hiring a hit man to eliminate a competitor. He agreed to stop practicing medicine in Florida. A New York doctor faces up to five years in prison for selling oxycodone prescriptions. And in Florida, doctors have fraudulently billed Medicare for billions of dollars. In one recent scheme, a Palm Beach County eye doctor falsely diagnosed patients with eye conditions that he then "cured" with unnecessary procedures, a similar scam to that conducted by the Michigan physician now in prison.

Many say that criminalizing doctors like the Plano neurosurgeon makes them afraid and unwilling to take on difficult cases. In England, for example, physicians say that prosecutors seem to be increasingly willing to bring criminal charges against doctors who make errors. Many English doctors have signed a petition to change this.

Doctors are not the only ones facing criminal charges. In Ohio, for example, a pharmacist spent six months in jail and another six months on house arrest after he approved a chemotherapy drug for a 2-year-old. The formula was actually an overdose, and the child died in 2009.

Not every patient death or procedure with a negative outcome is the result of criminal or civil misconduct. However, patients and their families should remain vigilant when undergoing any medical procedure. In many instances, obtaining a second opinion can prevent poor or fatal outcomes.

Source: malpractice

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