What is the Standard of Acceptable Medical Care?

When you visit a medical provider, you expect they will do everything they can to take care of you, figure out what ails you, and treat it. As hundreds of thousands of medical malpractice incidents per year clearly indicate, though, receiving excellent medical care is not guaranteed by any means. Does each incident of a patient becoming injured or worse off due to a medical provider’s mistake constitute medical malpractice, though? It depends on the expected standard of care.

Is There a Legal Definition for a Medical Standard of Care?

Throughout the years, establishing a medical standard of care has been difficult and differs from state to state. As one National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) article discusses, defining a standard of care in the medical world has fluctuated considerably in the last century. Some have tried to argue that anything short of perfection in practice is medical malpractice capable of being met with a lawsuit. Others think quite oppositely, lending medical providers and groups too much leniency, stripping the chances of filing a claim from the average plaintiff.

In other words, pointing to a concise and universally agreed-upon definition of an acceptable standard of medical care to bolster or defeat a lawsuit is impossible today. The wavering definition is probably rooted in the fact that medical standards vary so much among medical groups, fields of medicine, patients, states, and countries.

Breaking Down Medical Malpractice

To determine if medical malpractice did occur in a case, courts will often refer to a general description of negligence. Would a reasonable medical provider have made the same decisions in the same situation? If not, then medical malpractice may have actually occurred, and the plaintiff’s case will be improved.

Furthermore, medical malpractice accusations are often examined with a four-part lens:

  1. Did a doctor-patient relationship exist?
    This first step in establishing medical malpractice serves as a protective wall for medical practitioners in unusual situations. For example, if you receive bad medical advice from a doctor you met at a party, then you cannot sue since they never claimed to be your physician and you should have known you were not actually their patient. More importantly, though, this step may shield emergency medical technicians and emergency room surgeons from many forms of medical malpractice lawsuits. In an emergency, life-or-death situation, a medical provider must make difficult calls and try what they can to save a person’s life and without that person ever accepting or acknowledging the procedures.
  2. Did the doctor act outside of accepted medical standards?
    Step two is usually the biggest obstacle to a medical malpractice claim, as we previously discussed. There needs to be expert evidence to show that a medical provider has acted outside of accepted medical standards and behaved in a way that a reasonable medical provider would not. For example, if you are having shoulder pains and your doctor immediately prescribed spinal surgery without exploring other treatment options, then they have likely committed medical malpractice. A reasonable physician would have tried to use less invasive methods first, and they would have likely focused more on your shoulder first.
  3. Did the uncommon act cause the patient harm?
    Furthermore, committing an unusual medical act or prescribing an ill advised solution to a patient’s problem is not worthy of a lawsuit if no real harm was caused because of it. In another example, imagine you were prescribed the wrong medicine for an illness. However, you suffer no negative side effects and your illness actually clears up, potentially due to the placebo effect. In this situation, your doctor made an error, but you did not suffer injury due to it, so medical malpractice legally did not occur, or so it would likely be said in court.
  4. Did the harm result in some form of damages?
    Lastly, the harm that a patient suffers needs to result in damages. This is the same in any sort of personal injury claim. No matter what the defendant has done, if there is not damage, then there is no basis for a lawsuit. In a medical malpractice case, economic and physical damages are usually quite glaring, as all it takes is one look at the patient’s medical record to see how much extra medical care they needed due to their doctor’s mistake. Noneconomic damages are also common in a medical malpractice claim because it is not a stretch of the imagination to understand that continued suffering due to a doctor’s mistakes would put someone in a state of significant distress.

When all four of these requirements are met, a lawyer can argue that their client has suffered medical malpractice and the court or jury should reasonably agree.

Legal Support to Prove Medical Malpractice

The takeaway from the gray definition of a medical standard of care is that you need strong and competent proof of medical malpractice if you want your claim to be strong enough to win. Securing the assistance and representation of a professional medical malpractice attorney is a great start to improve your case while also taking the responsibility of building it off your own shoulders.

If you live in the greater Philadelphia area and need to file a medical malpractice claim, Golomb & Honik, P.C. wants to hear from you. Our lawyers have secured more than $2 billion in verdicts and settlements for our clients throughout the years. We would like to see if we can secure a great victory for you, too.

Call (215) 278-4449 at any time to schedule a no-cost consultation with our team.

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