Medical and legal terms can be confusing and strange. “Whose standard and what care,” you might ask. Simply put, the “medical standard of care” for a set of symptoms or an illness means the appropriate medical response to the symptoms or illness, as it is defined by the medical professionals who practice in the field. It is a set of minimum standards for acceptable patient care, and it is not generally what is known as average care.
“Medical standard of care” is an important legal definition used in medical malpractice cases. In legal documents and in court, the standard of care is compared to a practitioner’s actions, providing the basis for a medical malpractice suit. If it can be shown that the physician did not follow the standard of care for the particular medical situation, questions of negligence can arise, and the physician could be found guilty of malpractice.
The standards of care used are usually national ones, but sometimes local limitations come into play, such as the lack of availability of certain medical facilities or services. Additionally, different standards can be set for specialists than for general practitioners.
Medical standards can be derived not only from medical professionals practicing in the field, but also from medical texts and journals, medical and nursing school teachings, and even clinical trials. Medical practitioners can have differing views regarding standard of care, and standards can change over time.
Common Violations of Medical Standards of Care
When malpractice is suspected, there are a number of ways in which a standard of care can be breached. Some of the more usual ones include:
- Misdiagnosis, inappropriate delay in diagnosis, or failure to diagnose
- Medication mistakes, including inappropriate medications, or proper medications given at inappropriate dosages
- Surgical errors, including instruments and sponges left inside a patient
- Failure to administer appropriate care when the diagnosis is correct
- Failure to inform the patient of treatment risks
- Delay in treatment
- Birth injuries
- Not referring a patient to a specialist when it is called for.
As you can see from this partial list, the medical standard of care can be violated in many ways.
Medical Standard of Care, Negligence, and Medical Malpractice
Negligence cannot always be equated with a medical treatment causing injury. Nor do mistakes in judgment that violate the standard of care necessarily mean negligence was the reason. However, in a medical malpractice suit, one must show that breaching the standard of care was what caused the patient’s injury.
Typically, in addition to demonstrating that the medical standard of care was violated, one must also be able to prove the following in a medical malpractice case:
- The patient was injured.
- The physician or facility being sued was responsible for the patient’s care.
- The physician or facility being sued caused the injury.
Medical Malpractice Law in Indiana
Indiana was the first state to pass a medical malpractice law, in 1975. Several key features make Indiana’s law different from the laws of other states.
- Monetary damages are capped for a single act of malpractice at $1.25 million for the injured patient. Physicians are responsible only for the first $250,000 in damages for one finding of malpractice ($750,000 for all findings in the same year). Indiana’s Patient’s Compensation Fund (PCF) pays any excess over $250,000, not to exceed $1 million. Therefore, the highest amount of damages an injured patient can be awarded is $1.25 million.
- There is also a cap on attorneys’ fees, limited to not more than 15 percent of any award from the PCF. No cap exists on attorneys’ fees with regard to cases not brought against qualified providers.
- Certain physicians are immune from medical malpractice suits, notably those providing care as a volunteer, some varieties of care provided at health care centers and free clinics, and care provided as a “good Samaritan” action.
- The Indiana statute of limitations requires that all medical malpractice claims be filed within two years of the date of the injury. For example, if you went to the emergency room, and the physician missed a diagnosis that caused you significant harm, you would have only two years to file from the date of the emergency room visit.
- A few exceptions to the two-year time period exist. For one, a minor under the age of six has a filing limit of his or her eighth birthday. Some statutes detail the procedures which you must observe in order to bring a medical malpractice claim. These statutes can be complex and difficult to comply with, so you might want to consult an attorney.