The human body is often predictable. Standard medical procedures are established because of this predictability, but sometimes a person’s unique body presents a variation that poses a challenge to healthcare professionals.
As a patient, you expect your physician to know what kind of care you need and how to give it. At the very least, you trust them to refer you to another specialist if they do not have sufficient expertise to treat you. If instead you experience harm or a worsening of your condition at the hands of your doctor, it is understandable to feel shocked, confused and even betrayed.
When you have suffered harm under a doctor’s care, it is important to understand a medical term that is used in arbitrating cases of medical malpractice. That term is standard of care. Knowing what standard of care means and how it is determined will help you make decisions about how to approach your case.
Standard of Care in Your Medical Malpractice Case
When you suffer harm under a doctor’s care, or your condition grows worse after following their advice, a question that may come to mind is if you’ve suffered a case of medical malpractice. Malpractice is defined as a health care professional being negligent in the way they treat or fail to treat a patient. Treatment may constitute a procedure, such as surgery or delivering a baby, prescribing medicine or providing instructions after a checkup.
Whether or not a doctor is negligent is measured by the medical standard of care that is applied in the specific setting in which the patient suffered harm.
In order to bring a medical malpractice case to court, you must be able to prove these four things:
That the doctor owed the patient a duty of care. This is easy enough to do—as long as the doctor was giving you advice in the role of your health care provider (in other words, not someone with whom you had a conversation at a party), they are seen as owing you a duty of care.
That the doctor violated the standard of care in treating the patient. This involves determining the standard of care for the specific situation in which you suffered harm. In most states, this is assessed by comparing the doctor’s performance with local and national medical standards.
That the patient suffered a severe, permanent, or compensable injury. This is done through consultation of medical experts, including other doctors in the same field, and examining your medical records and other documentation.
That the patient’s injury was caused by the doctor’s deviation from the standard of care. In some cases, this is abundantly clear; in others, it is much more difficult to prove.
What Is the Medical Standard of Care?
The medical standard of care is defined as the level and nature of care that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional would be expected to provide under the circumstances. To define the standard of care for a certain case, lawyers for both the doctor and the patient will bring in qualified expert medical witnesses who can provide testimony and examples of what they would expect other doctors in the same field to do in the same situation. These experts will also testify to how the actions that the doctor did take may or may not have played a role in the patient’s current condition.
Doctors are not infallible, and it is sadly not uncommon for them to make grave errors in treatment. In fact, a 2013 study by Dr. John T. James published in The Journal of Patient Safety estimated that over 400,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors.
However, it can be very difficult to take on the medical establishment. Hospitals and doctors have a lot to lose by admitting error, and will often fight with all their resources to prove that they operated under a proper medical standard of care.
If you have suffered at the hands of a trusted physician, your best option is to work with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can bring equally strong resources and expertise to fight for your rights.