You may have heard the phrase "standard of care" in connection with medical treatment, and particularly in connection with medical malpractice actions. What does standard of care mean when we say that a medical professional has not upheld the standard?
First and foremost, a poor or unexpected outcome, even a death, does not necessarily indicate that a doctor violated the standard of care. A doctor may violate the standard of care and the patient may be fine; a doctor may observe it, and through no fault of his or hers, the patient may suffer an adverse event.
However, when a doctor or medical professional does fail to uphold the standard of care, and the patient suffers harm as a result of that failure, medical malpractice has occurred. This is why, if contemplating a malpractice action, it's important to understand what is meant by "standard of care."
Standard of care is something of a moving target. That's because it depends upon where the diagnosis or treatment took place, the resources available to the physician, and other factors. Standard of care is a bar that a doctor has to clear in order to be found not to have committed medical malpractice. It's a minimum, not a maximum.
To clear this bar, a physician must have provided the patient with the care that a minimally competent physician in the same locality would have provided under the same circumstances. A physician in Oregon may be held to a different standard of care than, say, a physician in rural Ohio or metropolitan New York, because he or she is working under different circumstances and likely with different resources. In addition, as technology changes and medical advances occur, the standard of care changes, too.
As a result, it's impossible to write down or codify what the standard of care is for a certain illness. There are too many variables. The standard of care in a malpractice case is largely determined by the testimony of medical expert witnesses. In a medical malpractice trial, either the plaintiff or defendant may present evidence such as clinical practice guidelines to support their case, but these guidelines do not conclusively prove whether a defendant doctor did or did not meet the standard of care.
It can be challenging to connect the dots between a doctor's action (or inaction) and the standard of care. Sometimes there's a "smoking gun," such as a doctor amputating the wrong limb on a patient or performing a surgery on one patient that was intended for another. Much more often, a breach of the standard of care is more subtle.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to prove one. Don't wait until you have what you think is an ironclad case to speak to an attorney. Your time to file a malpractice action is limited, and an attorney will not require that you have your entire case laid out. Your first step should be to consult an experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney—not just a personal injury attorney. A medical malpractice attorney will know the right questions to ask about your case and will have access to experts who are familiar with the standard of care that applies to your situation. An ethical attorney will never encourage you to pursue a case that you don't have a reasonable chance of winning.
To learn more about Oregon medical malpractice matters, we invite you to read:
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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