Doctors are highly trained and strictly regulated. We hold them to a very high standard of care because the consequence of their errors can be so extreme. The outcome from a misdiagnosis of cancer, where months of treatment are lost and the disease inexorably advances is very unlike that of a house painter, where a room is painted the wrong color.
Because of the high degree of regulation, both in medical education and during practice, most cases of medical malpractice are the result of negligence. A doctor, nurse or other medical professional makes a personal mistake caused by inadvertence or fatigue or some other reason. Other cases may involve a faulty procedure being in place that leads to a patient’s injury.
It is very rare that medical malpractice moves from negligence to intentional wrongdoing. Such a case came to light in 2007 from Las Vegas, where a doctor operating an endoscopy clinic was found guilty of second degree murder, by reusing syringes on patients and transmitting blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
He was sentenced last week to life in prison for the murder of one patent who contracted hepatitis C. The man died in 2012 from the deadly liver disease. Nine other patients were also infected with hepatitis C from his clinic and another 105 are suspected as resulting from treatment by the doctor.
The doctor had apparently reused syringes to save money, placing more than 6,000 patients at risk for diseases like hepatitis C and HIV. The judge noted there might be no greater betrayal of trust than a case like this, where a doctor places saving money ahead of his patients’ safety.
Source: NBC News, “Las Vegas doctor sentenced in hepatitis C outbreak,” Alexia Shurmur, Reuters, October 24, 2013