Early 20th century hospitals were vastly different than today’s modern health care centers. Technological advances spurred the growth of the current intellectual and scientific treatment facilities, which provide medical care to the general public. As science and technology advance, and as society changes to respond to health crises like the COVID-19 coronavirus, future hospitals will likely be much different than today. While these changes may decrease or eliminate some malpractice risks, they may increase others—and create new risks entirely.

Changing Care Models

While progress over the last hundred years shifted more patient care to hospitals and treatment facilities, 21st-century trends may indicate a return to more in-home patient care. Restrictions on elective procedures and other onsite medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic have prodded medical providers to explore alternative treatment options. Video ‘telehealth” appointments and an increase in online and telephone communication are more common. Patients can communicate with medical professionals faster and more efficiently. These options help keep patients safe from coronaviruses and other diseases, and also help expand treatment accessibility for patients with limited mobility, compromised immune systems, and in areas without adequate medical facilities.

However, while remote medical appointments may improve the immediate safety of patients, they may not yet match the standard of care typical of in-person medical visits, resulting in misdiagnoses or inappropriate treatment plans. Security risks with remote platforms may also increase the risk of breaches of patient confidentiality. Providers must ensure that they maintain high-quality patient care, according to their duty of care under the law, while taking advantage of the convenience and innovation these new options offer.

Changing Medical Practices and Procedures

Improving hospitals with technology may introduce changes that can reduce the risk of adverse medical outcomes for patients. For example, numerous studies show the effectiveness of hand-washing hygiene to lower rates of hospital-acquired infections. Technology that helps disinfect and improve hand and environmental hygiene may lead to significant declines in preventable diseases. Robotic and AI-supplemented medical devices may also reduce medical errors caused by human error, particularly those triggered by human fatigue or lack of precision. 

Predictive technology may improve the accuracy and speed of the diagnostic process, and improved testing may dramatically increase the speed of lab results. Computer-assisted monitoring and tracking using smartphones, wearable devices, and other interactive technology may help medical professionals establish effective treatment protocols or preventative measures.

Handheld full-body diagnostic scanners, as seen on Star Trek, however, are still light-years away. Until they become the stuff of science rather than fiction, humans will continue to perform diagnostic functions; sometimes, diagnoses are incomplete, incorrect, or simply too late to prevent poor outcomes. With new technology will come new legal responsibility. Treatment providers may have to work more closely with patients to ensure they correctly use devices that, used improperly, could fail to provide results or even cause harm. AI and robotic mechanisms may be vulnerable to technological malfunctions caused by manufacturing or programming defects, software glitches, or security vulnerabilities. It may be unclear who will be legally responsible for harm or injury suffered by patients due to these new technological advances. As the standards and practices of medical care change, the future of medical malpractice care will also likely change significantly. 

Richard D. Fox

View all posts by
Richard D. Fox

Richard Fox handles personal injury cases, including birth trauma, medical malpractice, and motor vehicle negligence. Throughout his career, which has spanned over 45 years, Rick has successfully represented clients in medical negligence and other personal injury claims.