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The Standard of Care for Medical Malpractice

Gilreath medical malpractice attorneys of Tennessee offer legal counsel about proving doctor negligence

Winning a medical malpractice case in Tennessee comes down to proving three things.

You must be able to prove that the healthcare professional failed to meet the terms of the standard of care, or there was a “breach” in the standard of care. And it must also be established that the patient was injured by this breach in care. Negligence should be the primary cause of the injury, but does not necessarily have to be the only one.

However, before you can prove these two things, you must first be able to clarify what the standard of care is in the medical industry in general, as well as the common practice of specialists in the particular field of the person or institution you are suing. Defining the standard of care is the foundation whereupon every medical malpractice claim rests.

Defining the Standard of Care

The term "standard of care" is defined by the National Cancer Institute as "treatment that is accepted by medical experts as a proper treatment for a certain type of disease and that is widely used by healthcare professionals."

However, one problem that often arises is that determining what is or is not "standard" can be a subjective issue upon which reasonable people differ. In other words, what is accepted by some is not always accepted by others.

Standard of care can be applied to a wide range of circumstances—from childcare, to businesses catering to handicapped consumers—but medically speaking, it is the guideline for the appropriate treatment of patients, based on scientific evidence and collaboration among medical professionals.

Determining the Standard of Care

As a general rule, the standard of care for medical malpractice is determined by how an equally qualified medical professional would have reasonably performed in identical circumstances.

More specifically, there are 3 basic guidelines for determining the standard of care:

  • The National Standard of Care: requires a doctor to practice a reasonable degree of skill and care that a competent professional in their field should display
  • The Locality Rule: requires a doctor to exhibit the level of skill and knowledge that other local surgeons and healthcare professionals in their area possess
  • The Respectable Minority Rule: requires doctors who acted differently than other professionals in their field would to show how their actions were justified by a confirmation of a respectable minority of practitioners

One way a medical malpractice attorney determines the standard of care is by observing how another practitioner performs similar operations or treatments. These professionals can be interviewed about the proper procedure method, and brought into court to testify if needed.

While the practices of doctors in related fields are essential in determining the standard of care, how close the accused practitioner's own methods must be to another healthcare professional varies by location.

For instance, a doctor in a rural region may have fewer resources than a physician working in an urban hospital, so the appropriate practices for similar procedures or treatments may differ. The locale of the incident may be taken into account in these kinds of cases.

In relation to the standard of care in medical malpractice cases specific to Tennessee, case law states that plaintiff's must use experts who are familiar with the standard of care from their local region, or from a similar community. Cases that appeal to "national standards" are considered to be too broad and unfamiliar with local standards (even if they are identical), and so are often dismissed.

In Tennessee, there are also specifications as to where a testifying medical expert was during the time frame of the negligence. Together, these factors, known as "The Locality Rule," address the validity of a testifying medical expert.

Lastly, a doctor can justify his or her actions by finding a minority consensus of respectable professionals in their field who support their actions, thus establishing it a standard of care.

Obtaining Compensation for Medical Malpractice

While there is no way to completely guarantee that a doctor will not violate the standard of care when providing treatment, the best defense against physician errors is knowledge. Whether a doctor is prescribing you a new medication or you are going under the knife, ask many questions, share information with other healthcare professionals, and get a second or third opinion.

And if you or a loved one are injured because of medical negligence, contact a medical malpractice attorney immediately to learn about your legal rights.

The Tennessee Medical Malpractice Act not only defines medical malpractice in the state of Tennessee, but also places limitations on how long patients can wait before filing a lawsuit against their medical provider.

So don't delay in taking the next step if you believe your doctor failed to adhere to the standard of care when treating you. Our medical malpractice attorneys in Nashville are standing by to hear your case. Contact us today.

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