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Victims of medical errors: Will you pay for follow-up care?

Complications can and do arise during any surgical procedure, whether it is a simple, routine operation or a complex and lengthy operation. In the best-case scenarios, doctors and nurses are able to identify and remedy an issue before it becomes a serious problem. In worst-case scenarios, however, surgical complications have catastrophic results that put the life of a patient in jeopardy.

In either scenario, patients can require follow-up care to address any health issues stemming from surgical complications. One major concern people have in this situation is: Who is going to pay for this additional care?

There are a few ways to answer this question and it depends primarily on the reason for the complication. 

If there was no way to anticipate or avoid a complication, the patient can be left holding the bag. There are risks that come with surgical procedures and doctors and hospitals aren't always to blame for such events. This means that the cost of any care needed after a surgery may fall in the laps of patients and/or their insurance companies.

If a complication was the result of a mistake, financial liability can depend on whether the hospital and/or doctor is willing or required to report the mistake. In some cases, hospitals and doctors will admit to the mistake and agree to cover any expense that stems from follow-up care. Some hospitals do this as a rule; many do not.

In cases where a hospital or doctor denies any wrongdoing, the patient can again be left paying for follow-up care unless legal action is taken. Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit can be an effective way for patients and their families to legally establish liability and collect compensation if liability falls on a care provider. This remedy is often reserved for particularly egregious incidents or situations in which a hospital or doctor refuses to admit to making a mistake.

Patients should not have to cover the additional costs of care required after an avoidable medical error. Unfortunately, too many do because they do not know their rights or may be misinformed about their options. If you or a loved one has been hurt due to a medical error, discussing your situation with an attorney can be in your best interests.

Source: The Washington Post, "A medical mistake happens. Who pays the bill?" Shefali Luthra, Nov. 9, 2015

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