Updated February 22, 2023

What Is Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice?

You may have come across the term “standard of care” while researching medical malpractice lawsuits. But what does it mean?

In any industry, professionals have a duty to uphold a level of care as determined by the specifics of their field. Healthcare providers, similarly, must meet a similar expectation when working with their patients.

As a legal term, and not a medical one, standard of care is used to describe this expectation in medical malpractice lawsuits.

What Is Standard of Care?

Standard of care can be described as the care that an average healthcare provider would be expected to provide under similar circumstances. Medical knowledge is taken into account as well—specifically, the medical professional’s specialty and knowledge available to other physicians.

Standard of care varies slightly based on the healthcare situation. Guidelines are established by all of the following:

  • Measuring and comparing the skills of an average physician in a relevant field
  • Medical knowledge
  • Traditional medical practices
  • How an average physician would provide the same care

These guidelines apply to individual physicians, clinics, formal diagnostic procedures, and specialists.

How It Differs from Other Types of Negligence

Negligence cases are based on the “reasonable person” standard. In other words: How would a reasonable person act in similar circumstances? What actions would they do or not do? If a reasonable person would have performed an action, then not doing that action could be considered negligent.

However, in medical malpractice cases, standard of care is often referred to instead of negligence.

Average vs. Reasonable Physician

Although every case is different, medical malpractice cases tend to look at how an “average” physician would act, as opposed to a “reasonable” physician—bringing the focus to methodology instead of medical results.

Since non-medical professionals (judges, juries, attorneys, patients, etc.) may interpret a “reasonable” standard as a medical case with perfect results and care, specifying an “average” physician reminds others that medical malpractice is not always the cause of poor medical results. Risks and complications are, unfortunately, a reality.

Who Determines Standard of Care?

A medical malpractice attorney will need to review the facts of your case to establish where standard of care was breached. In a courtroom, a more concrete definition of standard of care is typically given by an expert medical witness.

Qualified expert witnesses provide testimony to help determine the standard of care for any given medical malpractice case. Attorneys on both sides can call witnesses to give examples of what an average physician in the same field and similar circumstances would do, helping to establish the standard of care for that case.

Do Doctors and Lawyers See Standard of Care Differently?

The difference between the way doctors and lawyers look at standard of care depends on what they consider worthy of a standard.

Physicians typically believe a reasonable standard of care includes customary practices. Meanwhile, malpractice lawyers are more likely to think that care and practice are separate (although they may overlap). This difference is because medical malpractice is a field of personal injury law. Personal injury law has the reasonable person standard regarding negligence—if a reasonable person would have done something, then not doing it is negligent, and vice versa.

Doctors are cautious about using a reasonable standard. Physicians know there are always risks and complications with any procedure. By avoiding a reasonable standard, they’re avoiding an implication that complications were negligent.

Do Doctors Have to Be Perfect?

Medicine isn’t an exact science. There will always be risks or complications that aren’t the result of negligence. Keeping recovery expectations realistic is an important part of medicine, and ideal care doesn’t mean a full recovery.

In order for a case to be medical malpractice, a doctor must truly be negligent with your health. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will review your case in detail before moving forward with a lawsuit.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of medical malpractice, contact the Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW will fight for the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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