In order to establish that negligence occurred by a doctor or a hospital, an injured person must prove that a) the doctor or hospital breached a standard of care owed to the patient, and b) that breach in the standard of care caused the person’s injuries. This article deals with the concept of standard of care. Specifically, what is standard of care? And how do courts determine that a standard of care has been breached?
To determine whether a standard of care has been breached, a court will first establish what the standard of care is with respect to the medical procedure involved in the lawsuit. More specifically, what is the standard expected of a reasonably competent health professional when conducting the medical procedure that is said to have caused a plaintiff’s injuries? Once the standard of care has been established, the Court will then look to whether the conduct of the specific medical professional involved in the procedure fell below that accepted practice.
A bad outcome following a medical procedure is not always considered negligent. For example, surgeons are not held accountable for the outcome of the surgery, instead, they are accountable for the steps and actions to achieve the result. Standard of care is a measure of whether the acts or omissions of the surgeon meets the standard expected of a reasonable, prudent and diligent surgeon in the same circumstances. If the act or omission falls below the standard, then the surgeon’s actions would be deemed negligent.
Standard of care changes with respect to certain factors, such as the setting of the medical procedure. If you are measuring standard of care of medical professionals in remote or rural settings, their conduct is measured against medical professionals operating in those same conditions. Conversely, standard of care is higher for medical professionals that hold themselves out as specialists. Doctors who specialize in specific areas of medicine are held to a higher standard than doctors in a general or family practice.
It is also important to note that, since medicine is always evolving, it can have implications on the standard of care. If a doctor ought to have been aware of a certain method, procedure, or drug therapy, they could be considered to have fallen below the standard of care in not utilizing the information available in their field. On the other hand, if a certain method, procedure, or drug therapy was not considered a standard practice at the time, it is not likely to be evidence of a failing with respect to standard of care.
Standard of care is very fact specific and changes dependant on the circumstances involved in each case. Evidence from other medical professionals in similar fields becomes key evidence to determine whether actions of a medical professional fell below an accepted practice.