Understanding the Duty of Care Owed by a Doctor

When a person makes the decision to begin a relationship with a doctor and place his or her trust in the skills and training of that professional, it often leads to a positive outcome. However, when the doctor does not provide the expected level of care and his patient suffers serious harm due to negligence, it may be necessary to bring a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. For many people, understanding what standards of care apply to different medical specialties is an important first step in becoming comfortable with the various elements of a medical malpractice case.

First Things First – Establish that there was a Relationship

Before starting to contemplate whether or not a doctor was negligent, it is necessary to establish that there was a doctor-patient relationship that existed between the doctor and the patient. This means that there must be an intent by both parties to create a formal relationship or an emergency situation creates a relationship out of necessity. One member of a golf quartet asking another member, who happens to be a doctor, a general question does not rise to the level of creating a professional relationship, where obligations to satisfy a specific burden attach.

In order to demonstrate a doctor-patient relationship, it will be necessary to introduce written evidence and/or testimony to support the following:

  • There was a voluntary relationship between a doctor and a patient;
  • The individual who was harmed by the doctor’s negligence sought treatment or care from the doctor for a medical condition or health-related matter; and
  • There was an established relationship where the doctor was providing regular care to the patient.

There are emergency situations where the evidence that is introduced is different from a situation where a person suffered harm at the hands of his regular doctor after a period of extended care.

In many cases, it is critical to compile a medical record that supports the establishment of the appropriate relationship.

Second – Establish the Standard of Care

As discussed here, the medical standard of care is specific to the specialization of the doctor, as well as the education and training. It is established through the testimony of an expert witness and then there is evidence presented that the doctor breached the applicable standard of care.

Although the standard of care typically relates to the direct actions and omissions of the doctor relating to the treatment or care provided to a patient, there are several other types of negligence that may lead to a medical malpractice case. Two of the most common are:

  • Failure to meet the standard of informed consent – A doctor is obligated to provide sufficient information to a patient for that person to make a reasonable decision about a course of treatment or medical procedure. This does not mean that a doctor must advise a patient about every possible complication that might occur or all existing alternatives, but rather must provide information that is considered reasonable according to what a prudent doctor with similar education and training would disclose to a patient or advise with regard to selecting a specific option. A doctor also has an obligation to warn about potential dangers to third-parties, including the possible negative consequences about certain drugs or specific conditions, including advising a person with narcolepsy to avoid activities such as driving where the condition could lead to loss of consciousness.
  • Failure to supervise personnel – In addition to having an obligation to provide sufficient information for a person to make an informed decision, a doctor also must take appropriate actions with regard to directing and supervising those medical professionals who are acting to provide the care or treatment to the patient in accordance with the direction of the doctor. Although it is permissible for a doctor to have other medical professionals carry out portions of the treatment of a patient, there must be adequate supervision to ensure that those actions are carried out properly. In addition, a doctor must make prudent decisions with respect to what tasks can be delegated versus what tasks should be performed by the doctor himself.

Stern Law, PLLC Knows How to Demonstrate a Breach of the Standard of Care

Constructing an effective medical malpractice case requires a commitment to the details of how the negligence happened and a commitment to doing everything possible to get the right outcome for the victims and their families. At Stern Law, PLLC, we have spent more than 30 years honing our skills in order to get justice for those who were harmed by a doctor or other medical professional. Our attorney is passionate about fighting on behalf of our clients. We also act as a resource for those who have been impacted by medical malpractice, whether directly or as the family or loved one of a person who was harmed by negligence. We have people available to answer questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week for anyone who has a question or concern, regardless of whether or not you are our client. Call us at 1-844-808-7529 or fill out an online contact form in order to learn how we can help you get through this difficult time.

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