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What is the “Standard of Care”?

young Asian woman wearing scrubs and a stethoscope smiling at an elderly Black woman sitting in a wheel chair

Understanding the "Standard of Care" in Medical Malpractice

When seeking medical treatment, you trust your doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers to treat you competently and safely. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider fails to deliver the proper "standard of care" to their patients. In this blog, we will delve into what exactly the "standard of care" is, how it's determined, and explore the potential consequences when healthcare providers don't meet this crucial, expected benchmark.

Defining Standard of Care

The "standard of care" is a legal term that refers to the level of competence, expertise, and skill a healthcare provider should exhibit when treating their patients. It is based on what a similarly qualified medical professional would reasonably provide in the same or similar circumstances.

How Is It Determined?

Determining the standard of care can be complex, as it depends on multiple factors, such as the specific field of medicine, the patient's age, health, and medical condition, and the accepted practices among the medical community at the time of treatment. In medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses – often doctors or medical professionals who practice in the same field as the alleged wrongdoer – are typically called upon to testify about the standard of care relevant to the case and whether the treating provider has met that standard.

Examples of standard of care can include, but are not limited to:

  • Properly diagnosing and treating a medical condition within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Conducting necessary tests and examinations to accurately assess a patient's health.
  • Informing patients of the risks, benefits, and alternatives of a proposed treatment plan.
  • Ensuring that the patient provides informed consent before undergoing any medical procedure.
  • Providing adequate follow-up care during the recovery process.

It's essential to keep in mind that not every unsuccessful treatment, surgical complication, or poor outcome automatically equates to a breach of the standard of care. Medical treatments inherently carry some level of risk, and healthcare providers are not expected to be infallible.

How Standard of Care Relates to Medical Malpractice

If it can be proven that a healthcare provider did fail to meet the standard of care, and this failure directly resulted in harm or injury to the patient, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be warranted. Common scenarios where this may occur include failing to diagnose a condition or providing a misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication errors, or failure to monitor a patient's condition properly.

In such cases, the injured patient or their family members can file a medical malpractice claim to recover damages for their losses, such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress. To succeed in a medical malpractice lawsuit, the plaintiff must establish the following:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care.
  • The patient suffered harm or injury as a direct result of the breach of the standard of care.
  • The harm or injury resulted in quantifiable losses or damages.

Pursuing a Medical Malpractice Claim

If you or a loved one believes that you have been the victim of medical malpractice, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can review the facts of your case and advise you on the next steps. Your lawyer will be able to help evaluate the strength of your claim and determine if any legal action is warranted.

The Western New York attorneys of Faraci Lange, LLP have over 55 years of collective experience helping injury victims pursue justice for a variety of personal injury claims, including medical malpractice. To discuss your legal options with a member of our team, call (888) 997-4110 or fill out this short form to request a consultation.