When something goes wrong with your medical care, how do you determine if a physician acted appropriately under the situation or was, in fact, negligent? How do you determine whether your poor outcome was simply bad luck or malpractice?
It may come down to the standard of care you were given.
How is a medical “standard of care” defined?
Roughly speaking, a standard of care is whatever a reasonably careful medical professional would do (or would not do) in a similar situation, with similar information and resources. In other words, the standard of care that’s expected in any given medical situation can vary dramatically from situation to situation – and even place to place.
For example, an EMT trying to perform an emergency delivery in the back of the ambulance can’t be held to the same standard of care for the mother and baby as a OB/GYN in a major medical center during a scheduled C-section.
Similarly, a general practitioner in a small, rural area where there’s only one hospital for miles around has limited diagnostic resources at their disposal. The expectations for their standard of care may vary greatly from the expectations on a specialist working in a large, urban hosptial with every possible test at their disposal.
That doesn’t mean, however, that a rural GP is off the hook if they missed a diagnosis simply because the situation was over their head. Doctors are supposed to understand their limits and know when they should refer a patient onward to more specialized care. Your GP can’t claim that a normal EKG strip taken in their office absolves them of any liability for your subsequent heart attack if you were having unexplained chest pains and they never sent you to a cardiologist.
As soon as you start looking into the possibility of a medical malpractice claim, it’s wise to get some experienced legal guidance. It can be difficult to assess your situation (or the strength of your claim) on your own.