Despite efforts to mitigate their occurrence, medical errors by doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers result in a significant number of injuries and deaths every year. It’s important to note that not every treatment that results in the degradation of the patient's condition(s) or in failure to restore health constitutes medical error or malpractice. Instead, malpractice occurs when there is professional negligence by healthcare providers or facilities.
Professional negligence by act or omission of a health care provider occurs when the treatment provided falls below the accepted standard of practice in the medical community and causes injury or death to the patient. In order to determine whether there was malpractice, the key issue is whether physicians and caretakers followed accepted standards of care.
What are Standards of Care?
Though medical care is highly complex, there are a finite number of issues that afflict people with any regularity. Because of this, standards have emerged that the medical community has agreed should be followed in almost any given medical situation.
Therefore, if a patient arrives at a medical facility with one or several symptoms, the attending physician should perform a series of predetermined steps to diagnose and treat the patient. These rather inflexible, predetermined steps are standard; they’re standards of care. Standards of care can vary by specific circumstances but most often involve questions and steps such as:
- Was an investigation conducted and did the doctor take steps that they would have been reasonably expected to take?
- Was a diagnosis pursued?
- Was treatment provided in a timely manner?
- Was the patient informed of risks? This is known as informed consent.
- Did the healthcare facility provide a healthcare professional who was qualified to provide to the care that was needed?
Other Issues Involving Standards of Care
Standards of care involve agreed-upon rules, but medical professionals can disagree on what action should have been taken in relation to specific situations. Questions regarding the medical issue itself may affect standards of care, as well as the location of the facility in which the care was provided and the resources at the facility’s disposal. For instance, a small, rural clinic may operate on a different standard of care than a well-funded urban or university hospital. Most medical malpractice cases, therefore, rely on medical expert testimony for proof that malpractice occurred and that a deviation from standards of care was made. Only other physicians are qualified to testify regarding the competence of a doctor who may have committed medical malpractice, and only specific physicians are able to testify knowledgeably regarding the limitations and capabilities of a specific health care facility.
Malpractice claims can be complex or difficult to prove. At Stealey Law and Mediation, we use advanced tools such as computer simulations and real life anatomical illustrations to explain complex medical issues to a jury. We also work closely with qualified medical experts to help with litigation, in and out of the courtroom.
Stealey Law & Mediation
Learn about the signs of a medical malpractice case by downloading our free guide. Stealey Law and Mediation can handle most medical malpractice cases including those resulting in major medical injuries or death.
*Originally published September 16, 2013 – Updated September 21, 2017