Explaining Standard of Care

Medical malpractice lawsuits depend on whether or not the doctor or medical team acted within the standard of care in treating the injured patient. Our malpractice lawyers explain what exactly this term means, and what makes for a successful injury claim.

To have a viable medical malpractice case, the patient must prove four things:

  1. The doctor owed the patient a duty of care
  2. The doctor violated the standard of care in treating the patient
  3. The patient suffered a severe, permanent, or compensable injury
  4. The patient’s injury was caused by the doctor’s deviation from the standard of care

The standard of care€ is defined as what would have been reasonable medical practice under the unique circumstances. The problem with this, as many in the medical field argue, is that there is not an easy €œstandard€ or model to follow in medicine. No two patients are alike.

If a patient contracts bacterial pneumonia, the standard treatment is to prescribe them antibiotics. There are many different types of antibiotics, however, and a number of possible strengths, dosages, combinations, and potential side effects. There are many acceptable ways to manage a patient with bacterial pneumonia, which is why doctors and tort reformers push so hard against this definition of the €œstandard level of care.

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that a do ctor or medical provider failed to meet the €œstandard of care€ is the same thing as claiming they were negligent. Most states evaluate doctors€™ performances based on local and national medical standards.

In a malpractice suit, other doctors in the same field are called to testify as expert witnesses by both the plaintiffs and defendants. These experts speak to the standards set by various specialty organizations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Any failure by the defendant doctor to follow these standards can be used as evidence of negligence. Conversely, conformance with these standards would be used as proof that they followed the standard of care.

Some cases are much clearer than others. Doctors in Tennessee, for example recently performed a surgery on the wrong child. The newborn was born at University Medical Center, near Nashville, to the Melton family. The healthy baby boy was sent for a routine checkup before leaving the hospital, but mistakenly underwent a surgery meant for another infant instead.

The surgery called a frenulectomy€“ removed a flap of skin under the child'€™s tongue. The doctor reportedly asked for the wrong infant and admitted wrongdoing and apologized. The Meltons do not yet know if their son will have speech or eating problems.

That is a very clear example of medical treatment following below the standard of care. Most malpractice lawsuits are far more complex, and doctors rarely admit to or apologize for their wrongdoing, even when it does occur.

Our medical malpractice lawyers have been representing injured patients for 30 years, winning millions for our clients and their families. Our extensive network of legal, medical and investigative professionals allows us to accept claims nationwide. If you or someone you love was seriously harmed by a negligent medical provider, contact us for a free case review.

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