The Standard of Care: What Patients Should Expect

physicians reviewing standard of care in treating a patient

The Role of Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice claims are notoriously difficult and complex. Since the nature of these cases ties directly into the medical field, it’s important to understand the nuances that must be considered and assessed when determining if medical malpractice occurred. There are several key elements that must be established in order for a plaintiff to successfully litigate a medical malpractice claim. These elements include:

  1. You must establish that you were a patient of the doctor or medical provider. This means that they would have owed you a duty of care.
  2. The medical provider failed to meet the established standard of care in providing you services and treatment, thus breaching their duty to you.
  3. It would have been reasonable to foresee that their failure to meet the standard of care could result in harm or injury to you.
  4. Causation must be established, meaning you were harmed or sustained injuries as a direct result of their actions or inactions.
  5. The harm or injuries you sustained resulted in substantial losses and damages.

Establishing a Duty of Care Comes First

It’s important to note that the first critical element of a malpractice claim is establishing that the physician, doctor, nurse, or medical provider owed you a duty of care. Generally, this means that you must be a patient of the medical practitioner and a doctor-patient relationship has been established. In normal circumstances, the doctor-patient relationship is created when the patient seeking medical treatment finds a doctor who agrees to provide the treatment. Once they agree to undertake the patient’s care, they have a weighty responsibility to act on behalf of and in the best interests of that patient. Furthermore, the duty of care will exist between the doctor and the patient until the relationship is terminated. Discussing a medical issue or consulting with a doctor does not automatically constitute a doctor-patient relationship. The relationship is only established when and if the physician provides an explicit agreement or diagnosis, provides treatment, or prescribes medical remedies to a patient. It is important to note that a doctor, in most circumstances, is under absolutely no legal obligation to take on the medical care of a patient. They have the ability to select the patients whom they treat.

The duty of care speaks to the responsibility the medical provider has to diagnose, refer, instruct, and provide treatment to their patient. They must avoid actions or inactions that would likely cause harm to their patient. A duty of care can exist between a patient and a doctor, surgeon, specialist, nurse, midwife, or medical technician.

Defining the Standard of Care

Once the duty of care has been clearly established, the treatment and services the medical practitioner provides must meet the established standard of care. The standard of care is only applicable once the duty of care has been established and refers to the reasonable actions of a medical provider in the circumstances being considered. Essentially, it is the proper and appropriate care a patient should expect from their medical provider under the same or similar circumstances. A medical provider has a legal duty to provide services and treatment that meet or exceed the standard of care. If a medical practitioner exercises a reasonable level of care and skill, they have achieved the standard of care.

The standard of care is established within the medical profession. The expectation is not that the doctor is perfect in the treatment and diagnosis they provide. It’s often a question of, “what would another medical professional, with similar experience and training, have done in a similar situation?” The issue of experience and training is critical in determining whether or not a medical provider breached the standard of care. Generally speaking, medical specialists, like surgeons or oncologists, are held to higher standards of care than general practitioners. That’s because those specialists receive higher levels of training in their respective speciality than other physicians. This also means that medical providers should only provide treatment that falls within their expertise. They should not diagnose or treat any ailment or condition of which they are not familiar. This includes the administration of prescriptions and the utilization of medical techniques.

What Are Examples of Instances When the Standard of Care Was Not Met?

When a medical provider fails to meet the standard of care, it is referred to as a breach of the standard of care. Common examples of standard of care breaches include:

  • Failure to provide proper instructions to a patient
  • Failure to monitor a patient during a procedure
  • Failure to monitor a mother and baby during labour and delivery
  • Failure to refer a patient to a specialist when appropriate
  • Ignoring clear signs or symptoms that may indicate a serious health condition
  • Failure to provide timely treatment, including ordering and analyzing the results of medical tests
  • Failure to provide adequate explanation regarding the risks of a medical procedure or treatment
  • Failure to obtain consent for treatment

Determining the Proper Standard of Care

While experts typically carry the weight of determining what standard of care was owed to a patient, documented professional standards and clinical guidelines can also be useful in establishing the standard of care. It must also be proven that those documented standards and guidelines have been accepted and widely adopted by the profession as a whole. It’s important to note that the documentation alone cannot establish a standard of care.

Because modern health care is an increasingly complex and nuanced area, in medical malpractices cases, experts serve to solidify the standard of care that was owed to the patient. In fact, courts typically require an expert opinion regarding the standard of care. It is often impossible for a layperson with no medical expertise to determine the standard of care without hearing the opinions of an expert. Their analysis, opinion, and testimony are critical. Medical malpractice lawsuits typically include experts with differing opinions, so lawyers representing victims of malpractice will seek out experts who are highly experienced, reputable, and capable of explaining the foundation on which their opinions are based. It is important to retain experts who have similar training and experience as the defendant in the case. This helps to establish what the standard of care was and how a reasonable and competent medical professional would have handled the situation in question.

Analyzing a Claim of a Breached Standard of Care

Remember, when determining the standard of care, what matters is what decisions were made at the moment and if a reasonable medical professional would have made the same decisions. While hindsight is 20/20, it doesn’t have a role in claims of medical malpractice. Hindsight would allow someone to hold all of the needed facts and evaluate a course of action based on them. The court, however, only considers what the standard of care was at the time of the injury and with the information available to the medical practitioner at the moment in question.

In determining the standard of care, the court must consider the foreseeability of the incident in question. The standard of care requires a medical professional to consider all elements of a treatment or procedure, especially the degree of risk posed to the patient.

Are Standards of Care Different Based on Location?

Standards of care can vary based on a variety of factors, including where the medical care is being provided. For example, in some instances, a rural medical facility will not be held to the same standard as a facility located in a major metropolitan area. This is sometimes referred to as the locality rule. The court will need to consider the equipment and resources available to the medical provider and the facility in which they worked. This issue has evolved considerably over time as remote medical providers have gained better access to equipment and testing.

How Courts Help to Define and Change the Standard of Care

Medical malpractice lawsuits help to not only hold defendants accountable for their negligence but, in some instances, they even help to change systemic issues within medical facilities and push the standard of care higher for patients. The courts may uncover situations that are allowing medical professionals to defer their responsibility to their patients, resulting in harm or injuries. In these cases, they may bring to light instances where the standard of care is dangerously low. This can serve to advance the standard of care in the interest of the public across the profession and help prevent others from being harmed by the same kinds of oversights or flawed processes.

How a Lawyer Can Help You Determine If the Standard of Care Was Breached

Medical malpractice claims are incredibly complex and hard to prove. That makes the task of trying to determine if your medical provider has failed to meet the standard of care very difficult. It requires a legal expert who is familiar with the area of medical malpractice law and who has experience in litigating those cases in court. A medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate, investigate, develop, and litigate your claim. They’ll determine if the standard of care was breached and if it was, they’ll take your case to court and fight to win justice on your behalf.

Finding the right medical malpractice lawyer can also be difficult. You need to make sure you are working with a lawyer who understands the complexities of the practice, is backed by a reputable law firm, and has experience fighting and winning malpractice claims. When you are researching medical malpractice lawyers, find someone who brings to the table experience, knowledge, tenacity, and compassion.

Klein Lawyers Knows How to Help

The team at Klein Lawyers knows how to win complicated medical malpractice lawsuits. We  handle medical malpractice cases, have a stellar reputation, and have an outstanding track record. We understand how to identify instances of malpractice where the standard of care that should have been provided was not. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop taking on medical professionals who harm individuals by failing to meet the standard of care the patient should expect. 

Our Process

We will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review any needed records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. During the case, we will obtain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the injury that occurred. They will help to identify and explain that the standard of care was breached and identify all the responsible parties who breached it. We will fight hard for you to receive the compensation you deserve as a result of your malpractice claim. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life, while we focus on your case. 

We keep you informed throughout the entire case so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what’s going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. Too often, we hear concerns expressed from potential clients about what the process will be like, what they will need to do, how often they will hear from their lawyers, and what will be expected of them. We will make it clear right from the start. You will know what to expect and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.

We Are Here to Help You

Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There’s no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We’re here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.