As one of the most trusted members of society, medical and health professionals owe their patients a ‘duty of care.’ Hence, they have a legal liability to offer that standard of care. However, as we’ve seen in many cases, medical negligence can happen in many medical facilities where patients do not receive the standard of care they’re entitled to. Therefore, many patients decide to file for medical malpractice to seek justice after such unfortunate incidents.

Also Read – Medical Negligence Case: Types & Legal Advice

While we’ve discussed the types of medical malpractice cases and their legal complications, research has opened a world of other possibilities to determine new, unseen factors that might cause medical negligence. Under the medical system in Australia, you have the right to a duty of care and deserve compensation in case of any failure. Moreover, any professional negligence resulting in an injury makes your medical health professional liable for the damages.


Legal liability when there’s a fault in medical software

Clinical decision support software uses advanced technology and is incredibly beneficial for medical health professionals. Many doctors rely on the software to achieve an accurate diagnosis for their patients. However, in many cases, it can also malfunction and questions arise. Does a doctor’s duty of care make him liable for malfunctioning medical software?

Today, doctors are increasingly encouraged to rely on digital technology for better patient care. However, digital technology can’t always be reliable. Doctors rely on clinical decision support software to determine whether patients are ready to leave the hospital after any major surgery or treatment. The software compares the patient’s data with inbuilt algorithms to make recommendations for their medical care. 

In fact, clinical decision support tools are increasingly available throughout our healthcare system. It promotes high-quality care while aligning it with evidence and guidelines. However, any malfunction can lead to misdiagnosis, wrong medication, and other terrible consequences.

In the case where doctors rely on such tools for their medical judgement, they can face legal risk in case of any unfortunate consequences. It’s because the software provides nothing more than recommendations, and it is up to the doctor to independently carry out decisions.

So, yes, your doctor can be liable in cases of medical software malfunction. Clinical decision support software helps doctors in the decision-making chains. However, doctors must rely on their own judgement on whether to follow each software alert. As a result, it implies professional negligence on their part.

Legal liability on the medical health professional and software developer

Under Australian Consumer Law, the doctor may be liable for not providing adequate medical services with ‘due care and skill.’ Moreover, it is very unlikely that the patient’s family will win a case against the software company under the law of medical malpractice because the software is available for recommendations only. Its impact on the patient occurs via the doctor. Hence, it can be difficult to establish that the company owed the patient a duty of care.

However, Australian Consumer Law, it requires all manufacturers of goods to compensate those who suffer injuries due to any safety defect in the goods. Adding to that, there’s the regulatory oversight of clinical decision support software in Australia. In 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) set out a new approach where this software can not replace a health professional’s clinical judgement. 

With that said, there are substantial penalties, with up to 5 years imprisonment, where the injury is a result of the device’s failure to meet the TGA safety requirements. 

Creating new legal risks for medical professionals

Research shows that a doctor following a flawed computer-based device, causing an injury to the patient, can’t deflect legal liability to the software company. The logical yet concerning conclusion is that clinical decision support software, as its name suggests, is nothing more than support software. In the end, it is the doctor’s final judgement that counts.

However, it is safe to say that it introduces a new legal risk for doctors, who now need to guard against the very same systems that are available to help them in the first place.

At the same time, software developers need to recognise their obligations under Australian Consumer Law, as they aren’t free of any legal liability either. Wherever the stakes are high, it may also redirect to the regulator’s approach and the software developer who designs the support software.

With faulty medication alerts leading to fatal consequences, it’s a good idea for doctors to understand their legal liability and act accordingly. While artificial intelligence has created a wave of new technologies that further accelerate the advancement of science, it is our responsibility to use it carefully to our advantage. While it may offer countless advantages to our traditional services and approach, it can also impose other related legal and medical risks that were otherwise absent.

In either case, the patients aren’t at fault for any negligence or medical malpractice. Hence, they may be entitled to compensation, depending on their case and the severity of their injury.

‘Agreeableness’ is a prevalent factor in lawsuits against physicians

Doctors, like any other person, have a life outside their professional work too. In many cases, their personal circumstances may impact their professionalism – even when they shouldn’t. In fact, a study shows that physicians with lower self-rated health and life satisfaction, and those who experienced a recent injury, are more likely to lead to medical negligence. 

Researchers analysed data from 12,143 doctors in Australia and concluded that psychosocial and workplace factors are relevant when patients file a medical malpractice lawsuit. In fact, there are other risks adding up to the legal liability as well for older surgeons with high workloads, long work hours, and a history of prior claims. The study was published earlier this year in the BMJ Open of the British Medical Journal.

A doctor’s physical and emotional health after a significant incident can affect patient care & legal liability

The conclusion of the research suggests that the quality of treatment and workplace support doctors need after experiencing a major physical or emotional event can significantly impact patient care. Moreover, the results also reinforce previous recommendations that the government needs to focus on and intensify preventive efforts to improve doctors’ health and well-being.

Adding to that, the corresponding author Owen Bradfield, a fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, further spoke about the research in a news release. Understandably, it is important to better understand why some doctors are facing lawsuits. In all cases, any professional negligence can have tragic consequences for patients, which we can not ignore under any circumstances. Moreover, it can also prove to be incredibly costly for the health system. Not to mention the added legal costs and emotional turmoil for the patients as added liabilities. 

Adding to that, patients who suffer harm due to a medical error can sue the responsible doctor to seek compensation, answers, and reassurance. It is highly unprofessional and dangerous, implying that a mistake like this cannot have a second occurrence. Hence, it’s important to understand why the doctor involved in the lawsuit made a mistake, to ensure that they don’t repeat any such medical errors, and improve healthcare quality.

The study examined detailed responses from physicians about any relevant lawsuits

The study involved physicians in the Medicine in Australia Balancing Employment and Life (MABEL) survey. Doctors answered various questions about themselves, their work, cases, life satisfaction, working conditions, and previous lawsuits. Among the group of doctors, 649 reported were involved in a medical negligence claim which included 268 general practitioners.

For many doctors, there were a number of factors responsible that eventually led to medical negligence. It included low self-rated life satisfaction, failure to achieve work-life balance, extra working hours, and recent events of personal injuries.

For example, increased patient volume in hospitals can be extremely overwhelming where there isn’t any well-defined scope in practice in unstructured workplaces, leading to increased medical errors. However, in any case, medical malpractice claims can have terrible consequences that patients, doctors, and the government simply can’t afford. Moreover, patients require compensation for the emotional, financial, and physical stress they face.

Talk to a United Legal Lawyer Today

legal liabilityWhile there can be many reasons that lead to a doctor’s negligence, you don’t deserve to face the terrible consequences of a medical malpractice case. 

Facing the consequences of a medical injury that was a result of your doctor’s professional negligence can be extremely exhausting – emotionally and financially. When situations like these aren’t your fault, the expenses shouldn’t be your burden either.

However, every case involves legal complications that can be difficult to navigate. Our medical negligence lawyers here at United Legal are dedicated to your legal rights and represent you in Court to ensure maximum compensation for your case. We work on a no-win-no-fees basis, so financial limitations are never a hurdle in your path to justice.

Talk to one of our lawyers today for a detailed consultation, and we’ll go over the legal technicalities that you may have missed – from the verbal details to legal documents, evidence and more. We take on your legal burden so you can focus on what’s important – your physical and emotional well-being.

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