The Criminalization of Healthcare: Where Is It Heading?

February 1, 2003 | Health System Risk Management


There has been much discussion in the past few years of what is often referred to as the "criminalization of healthcare." The discussion is partly spurred by headlines such as "Doctor faces murder charge after fatal medical mistake," which appeared recently in major U.S. newspapers.1

Based on the outcomes of a handful of highly visible cases, there is growing concern that some alleged misconduct by healthcare professionals, formerly treated as negligence (and therefore subject to the rules, procedures, and precedents of civil law), will more frequently be considered criminal matters by state and federal authorities.

Pat McCadden, R.N., risk manager for St. Anthony North Hospital, Westminster, Colorado, was a key player when three Denver-area nurses at the hospital faced criminal charges over the death of an infant caused by the incorrect administration of a long-acting form of penicillin—the sort of medical error that typically ends up in civil court. She succinctly summarizes the opinions of some observers of healthcare legal issues: "If an error is made and death results, there could be a criminal investigation. That's the simple fact I learned. It just...

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