Doctor-Patient Relationships in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

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The Physician Patient Relationship and its Critical Role when Seeking Compensation for Negligence

What Constitutes a Doctor-Patient Relationship?

Why does a Doctor Patient Relationship Matter for a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in NJ?

You chose your doctor because you trust them. After all, your life is in their hands when making the right health decisions, preventing illness, and treating health problems. You further trust that they will perform medical services as a professional, according to the practice standards sanctioned for their medical area or specialty. Reciprocally, your doctor trusts you to be honest with them and cooperate in healing you.

How does the Law Define Doctor-Patient Relationships?

You are in a fiduciary relationship with your medical provider, which instills confidence. In that way, your physician can perform their duties and fulfill your patient obligations. Further, the fiduciary relationship between physician and patient consists of mutual consent: the physician agrees to be your doctor, and you agree to be their patient. Often, the relationship is contractual.

Though the physician-patient relationship is mutual consent, a partial or limited relationship may exist without patient consent in emergencies, where the parties may imply permission. For example, a court may mandate other types of physician and patient relationships that are not mutually consensual for a prisoner. In addition, an independent medical examination for a worker’s compensation or personal injury lawsuit may constitute implied consent in civil actions.

How does the Medical Community Describe Physician-Patient Relationships?

The American Medical Association describes the physician’s duty as fulfilling a patient’s medical needs. The physician has a moral obligation to provide competent medical care, with the patient’s welfare placed above the physician’s benefit. 

How do you know when a Doctor Patient Relationship has been Established?

Many times, a patient signs an agreement to pay the physician for their services, which is evidence that the relationship exists. And it will continue until one or the other ends the relationship or the services are complete. If the physician ends the relationship, they must give the patient warning and time to find another medical provider. Otherwise, providing medical services to the patient establishes the physician-patient relationship and, thus, the physician’s duty to the patient. 

Why is a Doctor Patient Relationship Important for Medical Malpractice?

Once established, the physician-patient relationship requires that your doctor inform you of diagnoses and treatment options. In addition, they must continue to treat you throughout your relationship with them and to ensure that you knowledgeably consent to any medical treatment or surgery. They also must protect your privacy and hold your records and information confidentially, obeying the state and federal laws governing patient privacy. Breaching any one of their obligations to you may be deemed negligence, leading to injury and a possible malpractice claim. 

Determining when or if a duty arose between a physician and patient is essential if a medical provider’s negligence injures you. Of course, doctors, nurses, lab technicians, nurse practitioners, and anyone in the medical field can fail to fulfill their duties. They are human, but some errors form the basis of a medical malpractice claim.

You Need to Prove a Doctor-Patient Relationship to win a Medical Malpractice Case

To prove medical malpractice, you must address four elements of the claim. This starts with whether the physician had a duty to the patient who was injured by the physician’s negligence. Then, whether the physician’s negligence was a wrong diagnosis, treatment, follow-up care, or health maintenance, the claimant must show that the medical professional’s conduct fell below the acceptable standard of care that a reasonable, comparable professional provides under like conditions and circumstances. 

What does the Doctor Owe the Patient once a Relationship Exists?

The standard of care is a key part of what the medical provider owes to the patient. A patient expects medical care that is up to the appropriate medical standards. Thus, a patient who sees a doctor for a sore throat expects a doctor to take a medical history, perform a physical examination, perhaps order a throat culture or refer the patient to a specialist. That may be the standard practice for a patient presenting with a sore throat. However, if the physician fails to ask about their symptoms or examine the patient, prescribing medication without the standard exam, they may be found negligent. This may also occur if the doctor and their office conducts tests, the results of which go undocumented or unshared with the patient thereafter. Perhaps the tests indicate the need for further testing or expert analysis. All of these situations require patients receiving the right information and recommendations.

Other forms of negligence include incorrect diagnosis, misinterpreting lab results, surgical errors, wrong medicine selection, prescription, or dosage, failing to follow up with a patient, issues recognizing symptoms, or prematurely discharging a patient from the hospital. When they cause a patient harm by their negligence that would not have happened without such failure, the injured party may be able to prove malpractice if they sustained significant damages because of the harm.

Are Only Physicians Subject to Patient Obligations?

Importantly, a devastating injury may occur when more than one healthcare team member is negligent. Anyone involved with patient care may be liable to an injured party. For example, the hospital may be responsible for hiring incompetent or negligent personnel, including radiologists, anesthesiologists, lab technicians, nurses, administrators, and specialists, among others. Various parties and their actions or failures may, in combination, be sources of medical malpractice. Other individuals may also be considered legally liable, but only a highly experienced medical malpractice attorney can ensure that you name the proper parties in your medical malpractice claim.

Find the Help of a Knowledgeable Legal Advisor and Advocate to Walk You Through the Process of a Medical Malpractice Claim

Given how technical medicine practice is and the variability of opinions about what is within or below the accepted standards of practice, it is imperative to choose an attorney who engages the top experts to support your case. You want a well-versed representative in medical terminology and testimony from medical experts. A professional with an extensive background, an attentive approach to listening and investigating your case, and a commitment to providing superior representation from beginning to end.

Take the time to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer at our firm, Fronzuto Law Group, for further assistance with your case. Call (973)-435-4551 or send us a message for a free consultation. 

You can be sure to understand the viability of obtaining compensation through a lawsuit, who may be accountable to you or your loved one for damages, and what you can expect if you ultimately choose to proceed with a malpractice claim. We are at your service, so please do not hesitate to contact our New Jersey office for a free consultation.  

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