How is a Breach in the Standard of Care Determined in Medical Malpractice?


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Medical malpractice happens when a patient suffers an injury due to the improper action, the failure to act, or the failure to act in a timely basis of a medical professional. It may also include the omission, or inaction, of a healthcare provider in which the professional does not perform a necessary responsibility that is necessary for the proper treatment of a patient. Additionally, intentionally engaging in actions that are detrimental to patients is also considered medical malpractice

When proving a medical malpractice case, an attorney will often refer to the phrase “standard of care.” You may hear an attorney talk about how exactly the standard of care was breached, causing injury to a patient. The following will help you understand what the phrase means and how it applies to medical malpractice claims. 

Understanding the Meaning of Standard of Care

In medical matters, the standard of care can be defined as the level of professional medical care that is relevant for a specific medical situation. Determining the actual standard of care for a specific situation depends on what resources are available to the medical professional and how they are used. The accepted standard of care is arrived at by deciding whether another medical professional with similar credentials and experience and access to the same resources would have performed in the same manner. 

For example, all pediatricians who have similar practices in a town or city and who have access to the same medical resources (equipment and facilities) would be expected to provide patients with similar levels of care and treatment. If one of those local doctors fails to do so consistently, then he is not offering the adequate standard of care to his patients. 

What is Considered a Breach of the Standard of Care? 

When a doctor or other medical professional deviated from the standard of care, either by error, omission, or delay, or they do not make good use of the available resources, the risk for a breach of the standard of care arises. If the actions (or inactions) of that medical professional result in an injury or preventable medical complication to the patient, then a breach has occurred. 

One way that a breach of the standard of care may happen is in diagnosing a patient incorrectly. For example, if a doctor arrives at a diagnosis for a patient quickly, when the patient’s symptoms warrant further testing, there is a potential for a breach in the standard of care. Should it then be determined that the patient is suffering from an ailment other than what the doctor diagnosed and treated, and the patient has complications or dies as a result, then a breach was definitely present. 

How Does a Breach Affect the Pursuit of a Medical Malpractice Case? 

The principal element of a medical malpractice case is whether the care that the patient received met the standard of care. When there is proof that the doctor or other healthcare provider did not make proper use of all available resources and strategies for diagnosing or treating the patient, and that his or her failure to do so resulted in an injury, then medical malpractice is a valid claim. 

Evidence of those two elements – breach of the standard of care and that the breach caused the resulting injury – must be provided as part of the documentation that is filed regarding the claim. That documentation includes all medical records involving interactions between the provider and the patient, including notes in the patient file, hospital charts, test results, medications prescribed or administered, records of surgical procedures, physical therapy, and any other relevant information. It will also include any documentation from doctors who took over the care of the patient following the injury. 

The attorney will use the evidence to show that the medical professional did not follow the accepted standard of care and did not act in the best interests of the patient. Consequently, there was a preventable complication or injury that resulted in damages to the patient – presently and perhaps in the future. 

What Should You Do If You Believe You Are a Victim of Malpractice? 

If you suspect that a doctor or other medical professional has not provided treatment or care that is reasonable or that they have breached the standard of care for you or a loved one, you need to contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately. When your attorney is able to show that there was a deviation from the accepted level of care, and that injury or complications resulted, there are grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Ross Feller Casey has an unmatched record in medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania and beyond. Call us today to make an appointment with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to review your case for free. All our medical malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, so you will not be charged until your case is settled or won. 

About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience as a physician, Dr. Gerald B. Parker brings a unique perspective as a Philadelphia doctor-lawyer to Ross Feller Casey.

Gerald Parker, III

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