Can There Be “Malpractice” in Alternative Medicine?
While some people seek alternatives to mainstream medicine as a last resort after other methods have failed, more and more Floridians are now beginning their search for treatment there, rather than seeking help from a licensed physician.
This is not always the best idea.
In general, patients who seek alternative treatments and medicines do so at their own risk. Of course, it is still possible for negligent treatment that causes the patient harm to create legal liability on the part of the practitioner, whether the practitioner is licensed or not.
What Is Alternative Medicine?
The term “alternative medicine” refers to any kind of treatment or “medicine” that is used outside mainstream medical facilities. This can include something as simple as prayer or meditation, as well as more “fringe” treatments like sound healing, reiki (a Japanese form of “laying hands”), and kambo (tree frog poison). Although alternative medicines may not be inherently dangerous, some use untested ingredients and chemicals. Choosing alternative treatments can also postpone “Western” medical treatment, which may make healing more difficult or impossible for a suffering patient if too much time has passed.
Are Non-Doctors Held to the Same Standards as Doctors?
No, they are not. Professional organizations in the U.S., such as the American Medical Association, have been formed to make sure that doctors and other medical professionals are held to the highest standards. Their treatment methods and practices have been organized and tested rigorously to ensure that they are as effective (and safe) as possible. These organizations do not exist for alternative forms of medicine, and practitioners of alternative medicine rarely have the eight-plus years of formal training that a medical or osteopathic doctor has in the healthcare field.
Can Alternative Healers Be Sued for Medical Malpractice?
No—only doctors and similar healthcare professionals like dentists and nurses can have medical malpractice lawsuits brought against them. While a civil suit can be filed against just about anyone, a suit for medical malpractice, specifically, can only be brought against licensed medical professionals who have a doctor–patient relationship with the victim. A “practitioner” who claims to channel energy or use crystals to heal individuals does not typically have either a medical license or malpractice insurance.
With that in mind, however, you may be able to file a professional malpractice lawsuit against professionals outside of the medical field. For example, if you hire an accountant, and he acts negligently and causes you financial harm, you can bring a professional malpractice suit against him or her. Still, these lawsuits require an established “duty of care” that demonstrates what is reasonably expected of the professional when dealing with a client. Showing exactly what the duty of care is for an alternative healer, and how it was violated, can be extremely difficult to prove in a lawsuit. But it may be possible, especially in cases involving gross negligence.
Dangers of Alternative Medicines
There are serious risks that patients accept when they choose alternative medicine over medically recognized treatments. In general, the biggest risk is the lack of oversight and regulation that alternative medicines and treatments have compared to more traditional medical approaches.
Someone who practices reiki or kambo does not have to answer to organizations like the American Medical Association. He might have every intention of trying to help you, but that does not mean that he has the knowledge required to do so. In seeking alternative medicine, you accept the risk that the person who is trying to help you may not understand how the human body functions as well as a licensed medical doctor would.
Serious injuries can occur when someone attempts to practice certain forms of alternative medicine without proper training. For example, in Florida, chiropractors must be certified, because the adjustments a chiropractor makes could cause paralysis if not applied properly. Alternative medicine may use chemicals and “natural” ingredients that may have dangerous side effects or react with other foods or drinks. Since practitioners do not always have the experience to recognize these dangers, however, they might not be able to warn you before you take them.
At the end of the day, malpractice comes down to negligence and liability. If someone practicing alternative medicine acts in a way that a reasonable person would not in a similar situation, he or she may have been negligent. And if that negligence is directly responsible for harming you in some way, then he or she may be held liable for that harm in a court of law. If you have questions about potential medical malpractice, call Faiella & Gulden, P.A., for a free consultation at (407) 647-6111.
We require no legal retainer or upfront fees, and you pay nothing unless we prevail. Call us for your free consultation.