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What is "Standard of Care" in the Medical Malpractice Arena

Medical malpractice cases rest on the premise of "standard of care." If you have been a victim of an incident of medical malpractice, you will have to prove that a medical professional treating you has breached the norms of standard of care to prove the validity of your case and claim damages. You should know the meaning of the phrase, its implications, the instances when standard of care is deemed to have been breached, and the exceptions to the norm.

"Standard of Care"

Medical professionals like doctors owe it to their patients to provide an accepted standard of care. This refers to the level of expertise and ability of physicians and the care that they provide to their patients in the same or an identical community and under like circumstances. The existence of board certifications and national board of exams for new doctors makes it possible for physicians scattered across geographical regions to attain similar levels of skills and be evaluated and certified as per common yardsticks.

Simply put, standard of care means that a physician is expected to possess specific skills and a level of knowledge common to other physicians practicing in the same field. If a physician does not practice what is expected of someone in similar circumstances, he can be held legally accountable for the harm he may have caused to his patients.

For instance, all medical communities generally lay down guidelines for drug dosage amounts. If a physician administers a dose that is more than the recommended amount and his patient suffers as a result, the former can be charged legally for failing to provide the accepted standard of care.

The Norms of Standard of Care for General Physicians and Specialists

The standard of care clause is interpreted differently across cases.

General physicians cannot be held to the same standard as specialists. Specialists have advanced skills. For instance, a general physician treating a cancer patient in an emergency setting cannot be expected to have the same level of knowledge or provide the same high-standard of treatment as an oncologist with his special set of skills and expertise.

Standard of care also has a locality rule. An orthopedic surgeon in a small clinic of a rural town cannot be expected to provide the same level of care as his peer in a big city who has access to state-of-the-art diagnostic and surgical equipment.

Fundamental Examples

But all qualified and certified physicians are expected to possess a certain minimum level of expertise and knowledge irrespective of where they practice or the equipment they have access to. They are expected to accurately diagnose and treat certain common and recurring medical conditions irrespective of their fields of training and work. For instance, a general physician should be able to administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

If patient dies because a general physician is unable to perform CPR to the requisite standard, the latter is legally accountable for failing to provide standard of care; he cannot plea that he is not a "cardiologist" as a defense.

To prove that the standard of care clause has been breached, you need to furnish testimonials from experts. A medical malpractice attorney is usually acquainted with professionals from the medical fraternity and can help you gather evidence without too many impediments.

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