How Does The Law Define Standard Of Care

How Does The Law Define Standard of Care

Malpractice lawsuits bring forth many new experiences and concepts for the average medical professional. One of those concepts is how the standard of care is defined legally in a lawsuit. We asked Dr. Stacia Dearmin, the founder of Thrive, for her expert opinion on the subject matter and this is what she shared.

Standard of Care

In medicine, we use the term standard of care to refer to so many things in so many settings. And the standard of care is a moving target. Let’s say, screening lead levels in toddlers 30 years ago may have differed from what it is today, because we are part of a scientific community that is continually trying to move the marble forward to provide better and better care for our patients. 

And what is standard of care in any given circumstance will vary by specialty. And there may even be differences of opinion as to what is standard of care  for any one situation. So how can the law possibly define the standard of care when it comes to a medical malpractice claim? 

What the Law Says

The law in the United States actually has a uniform definition across all 50 states. It is what a reasonable physician or non-physicians, CRNA or CAA, would do under the same or similar circumstances. So we’re not arguing for what a perfect physician would do. And we’re not arguing for what every physician in that same specialty across the country would do. We’re arguing for what a reasonable physician would do if another reasonable physician was under a similar circumstance. If they were to do the same thing then you met the standard of care. 

So this definition is useful in so many ways, in part because what it means to practice medicine varies widely. If you think for example, about the small tiny rural hospital, where a family practice physician is covering the emergency department in between patients at their office. The care that they provide, and what’s expected of them may differ to some degree from the care that would be expected in a tertiary center in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin, or downtown Philadelphia. 

The definition really pulls in the fact that circumstances and the resources that are available to us vary. And what we’re looking for is what another reasonable physician or other type of practitioner would do under that circumstance. 

Who Defines Reasonable for this Case?

They are “expert witnesses” physicians, advanced clinicians or nurses, who are willing to provide information to the lawyers on both sides about what they consider what a reasonable person should have done under a given circumstance. This is where their reports and testimony come in and become essential. 

Those experts are the ones who provide the court with the information that it needs to judge. Did this person against whom this lawsuit has been filed do what a reasonable clinician would do? The judge doesn’t know. The judge hasn’t been to medical school, the jurors haven’t been to medical school, it’s the experts who bring that information.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Nothing in this presentation constitutes legal advice.

Dr. Stacia Dearmin is a physician, nationally recognized speaker, and certified professional coach. As founder and CEO of Thrive, she aims to ensure that no physician has to travel the hard road of an unforeseen patient outcome or malpractice litigation alone! Contact her here at Connect with Dr. Dearmin.