What Is The Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence

In many cases, you will find that the terms malpractice and medical negligence are used interchangeably. However, there is a difference that is often overlooked.

Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional makes a mistake in the treatment procedure that directly causes harm to the patient.

For instance, a doctor may prescribe pain medication that either causes or exacerbates a patient’s stomach ulcer because of its components. In this case, the doctor may have prescribed this medication without knowledge of the ulcer, and that is a mistake, thus amounting to negligence. Another good example of negligence is when a surgeon forgets to take a pair of scissors out before sewing up a patient. It’s a mistake, albeit a terrible one.

On the other hand, medical malpractice is when medical practitioners intentionally does or fails to do something while treating a patient, thus resulting in harm. The main difference comes about in the area of intent. This is not so much the intent to harm a patient, but knowledge of the harm that would arise and still making the choice anyway.

For instance, in our pain medical malpractice cases, the doctor must be fully aware of the patient’s ulcer at the time of prescription. If the healthcare provider knows that the patient has a stomach ulcer, and the components of the pain medication will worsen the ulcer but still prescribes it anyway, that is malpractice.

What Qualifies as Medical Negligence?

Now that we know the difference between medical errors and malpractice, what truly qualifies as medical negligence? Several situations easily fall under this category. These include the following:

  • Surgical errors- These are mistakes that happen during or after surgical procedures. The scissor incident mentioned earlier is a perfect example.
  • Prescription errors- This can be in terms of prescribing the wrong medication or unknowingly failing to prescribe medicine that can help. The pain medication and ulcer incident will also fall under this category.
  • Poor follow-up- This would be a case where a medical practitioner fails to carry out a proper follow-up procedure on a patient. As a result, the patient may develop complications that go unnoticed, thus resulting in injury.
  • Misdiagnosis- In this case, a medical professional may misread symptoms and make a wrong diagnosis. This would result in prescription errors, unnecessary surgery, as well as late treatment or failure to treat something altogether.
  • Poor communication prior to medical procedures- Ideally, a medical practitioner should extensively explain a procedure and its expected outcomes beforehand. In a situation where this was not done or clearly explained to the patient, it amounts to medical negligence.
  • Errors during birth- In some cases, medical professionals make mistakes that lead to injury upon a child at the time of birth.
  •  Anesthetic mistakes- There are cases where patients wake up before their surgical procedure is complete. This is one of the medical errors related to anesthesia, and it amounts to medical negligence.

Medical negligence scenarios can be summed up as above, but they are not limited to that. It is also helpful to note that not all medical negligence cases necessarily amount to some personal injury. For instance, poor communication falls under negligence, but it does not always result in the patient’s injury.

The four Ds of Medical Negligence

A couple of factors strongly contribute to a case qualifying as medical negligence. These are sometimes referred to as the 4 Ds of medical negligence. They are:

  • Duty
  • Dereliction
  • Direct Cause
  • Damages

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the factors:


First, you will need to prove that the medical practitioner owed you a duty of care. In a nutshell, there has to be a patient-practitioner relationship, to begin with. This will show that the physician was obligated to provide standard care to you. You can do this with the availability of detailed medical records from the hospital.


Secondly, you will be required to prove that the medical provider in question neglected the standard care they are required to provide to you as any professional would. To establish this, you will require an expert witness. This is an independent professional in the medical field who will outline how they would have carried out the treatment. They will need to show that they would have acted differently under the same circumstances.

Direct cause

Thirdly, it will be necessary to show that the medical provider’s actions or failure to act led directly to your injury. You would need to prove that you would not have come upon that harm in any other way if the practitioner had acted differently.


Lastly, you will have to provide proof of the outcome of the medical professional’s negligence. This is any harm caused psychologically (emotional distress), financially (medical bills and lost wages), and physically. This is what the court will use to gauge your medical malpractice claims.

Proving medical negligence is no easy feat. Therefore, it is essential to find an experienced medical malpractice attorney to help you make a strong medical malpractice case for all the Ds. You will find that a lot of experienced medical malpractice attorneys offer a free consultation so that they can gauge whether or not your case is valid before proceeding with any legal action.

What Is Worse, Negligence or Malpractice?

Since the main difference between negligence and malpractice is the intent, malpractice is worse. This is because it is not just a mistake- it is a mistake made even when the provider knew of the repercussions. It could and should have been avoided. Owing to its seriousness, bringing a malpractice case against doctors can cause them to lose their license to practice.

Cases of negligence, however, outnumber medical malpractice cases because it is pretty difficult to prove medical malpractice.

The Bottom Line

Negligence and malpractice differ in terms of the practitioner’s intent. To prove negligence, one needs to show duty and deviation from the accepted standard on the part of the nurse, doctor, and the entire hospital. On top of that, proof of direct cause and all the damages should be shown. An excellent medical malpractice lawyer can help get you the compensation you deserve in medical malpractice lawsuits.

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Gary Matthews Solicitors

Medical negligence solicitors, Dublin

We help people every day of the week (weekends and bank holidays included) that have either been injured or harmed as a result of an accident or have suffered from negligence or malpractice.

Contact us at our Dublin office to get started with your claim today

Gary Matthews Solicitors