September 2012
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Did Your Medical Care Meet Appropriate ‘Standards of Care’ levels?

If you are concerned about medical Standards of Care that you or a loved one recently received, you are also probably wondering whether or not you have grounds to potentially file a medical malpractice case. These types of cases often take some time to sort through, but understanding the basics around ordinary care should give you a better idea on how best to proceed.

The top two questions that have probably already crossed your mind include: If I proceed with filing a medical malpractice case, how legitimate or frivolous might is it?  How hard or easy will it be to prove and/or win my case?

Your first step would be to get a general understanding of what is meant by appropriate or ordinary care.  If you do some quick online research on the definition of “Standards of Care”, you will see how answering this question is not so simple.

What needs to be determined is whether or not an inappropriate or insufficient level of care has occurred which directly resulted in the causing of harm, injury, or even death.  You will be looking for “dereliction of duty to the patient”, i.e., deviation from “ordinary” care. This could include incomplete or incorrect actions or even inaction.  This may or may not have been due to incompetence. This however would exclude errors in judgment made “in good faith and honest belief”.

Who decides what a “reasonable person” or “ordinary care” looks like? Three things that go into the final determination of negligence, including: the doctor’s documentation; determination of commonly accepted standards of care for medical practices and customs for the condition in question; and peer review and/or medical legal testimony.

“Standards of care” or “ordinary care” is based on what a “reasonably prudent professional” with the same training and experience would do in the same or similar situations. For this, often expert witness testimony is critical, such as from a nursing expert witness. “Standards of Care” apply to diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.

Regarding treatments, it is not uncommon for more than one treatment option to be available.  “Ordinary” care does not mean the “best” or most expensive treatment. Then there is also the question of new versus common treatments, for example, the more controversial case of a commonly accepted practice of an off-label use for a prescription medicine or medical equipment.

Other determinations that muddy the waters include determinations of:  the physician’s duty to inform of risks and costs; likelihood of risks; potential seriousness of harm; availability of alternate treatments; and likely results of maintaining existing care levels.

While there are many subjective determinations that go into medical malpractice lawsuits, it is the specific details and circumstances of each case that makes each case quite different and not so easy to generalize about.

Helen Hoefele is a professional writer who likes to write on topics that share useful information with readers.  Follow her @figmentations.

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