About Medical Malpractice Insurance
By Susan Landis-Steward
, last updated December 22, 2011
Medical malpractice insurance is a form of professional liability insurance that protects doctors and other health professionals in the event that they are sued following an injury or death to a patient because of an error or omission on the part of the doctor. In most states, medical malpractice insurance is required by law; in others, it is required for physicians who want to see patients in hospitals. Doctors in group practice are often covered by a group policy, but others need to provide their own malpractice insurance. Hospitals usually have an umbrella policy that covers the hospital and all its medical employees.
Unlike automobile insurance which raises premiums with each claim, medical malpractice insurance cost is based instead on the physician's specialty and the part of the country he or she works in. For example, an obstetrician/gynecologist in a large urban area may pay considerably more than a family practice doctor in a rural area.
In order for a medical malpractice case to be actionable, the patient must be able to show that the doctor's behavior was against accepted standards of practice or that the hospital or clinic demonstrated poor care or training or was otherwise negligent. Medical malpractice suits are hard to win and generally take three to five years of litigation.
Most states limit the time frame for filing a medical malpractice suit to two years. Before filing, the patient has to have his medical records reviewed by another doctor who will determine whether or not the treatment was appropriate and adhered to generally accepted standards. Most states set limits on how much can be awarded for attorney fees and damages in a malpractice suit.
It is not just doctors who need malpractice insurance. Nurses, mental health professionals, physical therapists, and other medical professionals also are at risk. Because they generally work under the aegis of a clinic or hospital, many are covered by their employers. However, independent contractors or those in a private practice will need to purchase their own medical malpractice insurance.
In addition to carrying medical malpractice insurance, physicians and other health care providers need to be aware of the need for informed consent. This means that the patient is aware of all benefits, risks, and the nature of the treatment. They must also be informed about alternatives to the procedure and the risks and benefits of the alternative treatment. It is not enough that the patient be told all this; the physician has an obligation to make sure that the patient understands what he is told. If a patient is unable to understand and sign an informed consent, the doctor must make sure a legally authorized representative of the patient is present and signs for the patient. Patients are also expected to ask questions and require that their healthcare providers put anything in language the patient can understand. The exception would be in an emergency situation where the patient's life is at risk and needs immediate treatment and the patient is unable to consent. Many states have some variation of a Good Samaritan law that protects the physician in such situations.