In modern litigious societies such as the US, malpractice has expanded from practice contrary to rules to practice that is not standard of care. Malpractice is often used to refer to an analogous situation in other fields.
Malpractice is a tort, which allows someone who received nonstandard care and then suffered some harm to take money from the physician if they can convince a jury that the harm was related to the care.
Malpractice attempts to solve two separate problems: that of a patient being harmed, and that of a physician providing sub-standard care. Ideally, an injured party is given money to compensate for their injury, and the culprit must pay this money. There are a variety of problems in practice, of course.
First, combining the two goals of compensating the injured patient and adjusting physician behavior means that injured patients are only compensated if their misfortune happens to occur in the context of sub-standard care. Likewise, physicians are encouraged to avoid lawsuits, which only rarely translates into better care. For this reason, idealists propose separating compensation of patients from disciplining physicians.
Additional concerns include the fact that legal costs are inevitably passed onto patients in the form of high medical costs, reduced access to physicians, and a growing tendency to run unnecessary tests in order to avoid lawsuits.
Various countries have a wide array of approaches to these problems. In the United States, reform attempts generally center around capping payments, particularly noneconomic damages which are impossible to quantify. Due to the power of the American Trial Lawyer Association, few such reforms have managed to pass on either the Federal or State level.