Medical Malpractice Types

Although each case of malpractice is unique, there are four very basic medical malpractice types:

  • misdiagnosis
  • procedural errors
  • failure to treat a condition
  • prescription errors

Each type of medical malpractice generally includes several subtypes. Furthermore, one type of malpractice often affects or overlaps with another type of medical malpractice. For example, a misdiagnosis might result in a physician failing to diagnose a patient’s actual condition. The misdiagnosis can then result in a failure to treat the actual condition and the doctor might even write an incorrect and even harmful prescription to treat the misdiagnosed condition.


Misdiagnosis simply means that a doctor incorrectly identified a patient’s condition or problem. For example, a doctor may see a spot in a patient’s lung and diagnose lung cancer when the spot is actually mucus or phlegm that the lung had failed to expel. Whether such a misdiagnosis amounts to malpractice will depend on whether the doctor’s diagnosis conformed to the accepted standard of care by doctors in similar circumstances. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, both sides would need consider a variety of circumstances relating to the diagnosis.

Errors During Procedures

Procedural errors, also known as surgical errors, are mistakes made during medical procedures. A procedural error can occur in one of countless ways. Due to the complexity of modern procedures, especially surgeries, it is not surprising that medical malpractice can happen. Errors can range from the uncommon and drastic, such as surgeons forgetting to count how many sponges they remove from a patient after surgery, to the more common errors such as simply failing to use the proper up-to-date techniques for a procedure. As with any malpractice case, the result will depend on whether the doctor’s practices aligned with the standard of care in comparison to other doctors of the same specialty.

Failure to Treat a Condition

Failure to treat a condition most often results from misdiagnosis. However, some physicians have refused to provide treatment because the patient does not have health insurance or because the physician believes that the condition will correct itself over time. Sometimes the failure to treat a condition comes from the physician believing that the risks of treatment outweigh the benefits.

Prescription Errors

Prescription errors sometimes result from misdiagnosis. For example, a patient diagnosed with cancer but who does not actually have the disease will most likely suffer harm when undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments. In addition, physicians sometimes prescribe a medication without checking the patient’s drug allergies or without thinking about whether the patient is taking reactive medications prescribed by another doctor. Physicians may also look at the incorrect line or page in their reference materials and simply prescribe the wrong medications or make mistakes in calculating the appropriate dosages.