Medical Errors in Massachusetts

When is a bad medical experience considered medical malpractice?

If you or a loved one experienced a medical error, please read the following information about medical mistakes in Massachusetts. While not every medical error leads to a life altering injury (or worse), every medical mistake does deserve to be reported in order to make these errors known and to help keep them from happening to someone else.

See also: How To File Medical Malpractice in MA, NH and RI  

photo of urgent response to medical error at hospital

Medical Mistakes in Massachusetts

Despite having a reputation as the home of some of the best medical care in the nation, Massachusetts is also the home to a host of adverse medical events. Medical errors in Massachusetts, unfortunately, are very prevalent.

Nationwide, medical error is the 3rd leading cause of death according to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety. Only heart disease and cancer kills more people each year.

In Massachusetts, almost 1 in 4 residents experienced a medical error themselves or a person close to them, and 59% of these incidents resulted in serious health consequences. This is according to a 2014 survey by the Betsy Lehman Center, which asked 1,224 Massachusetts residents whether they or someone close to them believed they had experienced a medical error situation.

The results:

  • 23 percent responded that they had experienced a medical error.

Of those who experienced error:

  • 54 percent reported the error
  • 37 percent did not report the error.

Of those who reported the error:

  • most told only their doctor
  • 8 percent reported it to a state agency.

Of those who did not report the error:

  • 36 percent said they did not know how.

It goes without saying that while many medical errors are documented in the state, still more medical mistakes in Massachusetts go unreported.

What Is a Medical Error?

Medical errors include mistakes made by healthcare professionals and hospitals such as surgical mistakes, medication errors, misread xrays, laboratory mix ups, communication breakdowns, as well as hospital-acquired infections, misdiagnoses or delays in diagnosis and many other forms of medical negligence.

In Massachusetts as part of an effort to identify and track problems in delivery of healthcare, hospitals are required by law to report what are known as "serious reportable events" (SREs) to Health and Human Services Department of Public Health.

The state currently tracks 29 SREs as defined by the National Quality Forum. These SREs are also known as "never events" as they are never supposed to happen to someone in a hospital. The most recent data from 2017 identified 922 SREs at Massachusetts acute care hospitals. Some of the most frequent include:

  • Falls
  • Surgery on wrong body part
  • Surgery with foreign object left behind
  • Wrong surgery performed
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Medication error
  • Burn injury.

Massachusetts law prohibits hospitals from charging for care related to these events. For a full list, please see our blog article: Tracking 29 Mistakes That Should Never Happen In A Hospital.

Why Report a Medical Mistake?

At the state and federal levels, patient safety organizations and agencies recognize this problem and are working to improve health care in all areas. Tracking and reporting errors is key to this process. Identifying problems helps these patient safety organizations and hospitals to study and offer solutions and training to eliminate these errors from the health care system.

Our legal system, specifically tort law — the ability to bring a person or organization to civil trial for negligence and recover damages — helps create accountability and justice as well as put tremendous pressure on the medical system to admit to mistakes, pay for damages, and make changes to avoid additional similar mistakes.

Each year, many medical malpractice cases are filed in Massachusetts. However, very few of these actually go to trial. Most are settled by the insurance company representing the medical professional or hospital. However, there are many cases of medical errors that never result in a lawsuit because there was no lasting or serious harm resulting from the error, there was not proper evidence to bring a lawsuit — or the medical mishap was never reported or investigated. It is extremely important that all medical errors are reported. No matter how inconsequential, we encourage you to report any and all medical errors or mistreatments by a healthcare provider (see more on how to report medical errors below).

When Is a Medical Mistake Considered Medical Malpractice?

If you have questions about a possible medical malpractice lawsuit, please follow these three steps to learn if you may have legal recourse.

1. Jot down some notes about your situation.

To the best of your knowledge write down doctor or other health provider names and hospitals involved and any key dates. What was your medical issue? What went wrong? Don’t worry about getting every detail, but create your own record and get your thoughts together enough to tell your basic story.

2. Speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in the state in which the problem occurred.

If the medical error in question caused a patient serious injury, additional surgeries, a delay in recovery or death, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and medical costs. It is important to speak with a law firm that regularly brings medical malpractice cases to trial and has a record of winning verdicts — which gives them more leverage in settlement negotiations — such as Lubin & Meyer.

We practice in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.


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3. Request/release your medical records.

Whether or not you are working with a medical malpractice attorney, you have the right to your full medical record and you can file a request to be given a copy of all records. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), your health provider must give you a copy of your records within 30 days, or up to 60 days if your information is maintained off site. (See more at: How To Get A Copy of Your Medical Records.)

Note on reporting medical errors: Even if your bad healthcare experience did not cause you permanent harm or may not warrant pursuing a lawsuit, it still deserves to be recognized, recorded and used to improve medical care for future patients in similar circumstances. See more information on the Betsy Lehman Center website on Steps to take after experiencing a medical mistake.

Lubin & Meyer Is Here To Help

If you have any questions about the specifics related to a bad medical experience, please do not hesitate to contact us, New England's leader in medical malpractice law. Our legal/medical team can help determine if you have a valid medical malpractice claim at no charge. Our attorneys are licensed and actively practicing in:

  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island.
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Free Case Evaluation: Our trial lawyers and nurses are available to review your case free of charge. Call (617) 720-4447. Strictly confidential. No obligation.

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