What is the Standard of Care?

Jeffrey R. Davis

What is the standard of care? It is a phrase that comes up in every Florida medical malpractice case. Many people find the term confusing or unclear. The purpose of this article is to simplify the phrase “standard of care” and show how it applies in a medical or Professional negligence setting.

Florida law sets out the definition of the standard of care within Florida Statute 766.102(1), “The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill, and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.”

Put another way, the standard of care is what a reasonably prudent healthcare provider would do under similar circumstances. In the alternative, it is also what a reasonably prudent healthcare provider would not do under like circumstances when offering diagnosis, treatment or care.

The standard of care is something all of us deal with in our own lives on a daily basis. For example, coming to a full and complete stop at a stop sign is driving within the standard of care. In essence, following the rules. A reasonably prudent driver would not simply drive through a red light – that would be a breach of the prevailing standard of care for a reasonably prudent driver. Likewise, a pedestrian should look both ways before crossing a street. This simple, basic rule of safety is the standard of care for pedestrians. Something foolish like walking into a busy intersection looking down at a phone would be breaching the standard of care; meaning, acting carelessly or negligently. Bicyclists riding on streets or roadways should wear a helmet. That’s the standard of care of bicycle riders. These ordinary rules that we all follow on a routine basis represent the standard of care in our daily activities.

With the Corona Virus (COVID-19), new standards of care have become necessary. Parks, Beaches, restaurants, bars, gyms etc. have all closed or limited their hours and capacities. Theatres, sporting events and concerts-mass gatherings are all cancelled. The circumstances of the disease have created a standard of care for governments, businesses and event organizers to limit or avoid people gathering. Building operators and property managers have taken steps to provide higher levels of sanitation like disinfecting and cleaning surfaces and providing hand sanitizers. All of these steps are in recognition of a new standard of care for public or semi-public spaces.

With medicine, the prevailing standard of care is not always as obvious. In Florida medical malpractice cases, it is necessary to have a healthcare provider of the same type or specialty as the one being accused of wrongdoing state what the medical standard of care requires. This way, a Plastic surgeon for example can testify as to what the standard of care is for fellow Plastic surgeons and how the Plastic surgeon being sued breached or deviated from the standard in your case. Deviation from the standard of care or departure from the standard of care means doing something that a reasonably prudent practitioner would not do or not doing something that a reasonably prudent practitioner would do. That’s what it means to breach the standard of care. The defense in a malpractice case will usually produce an expert that says that the physician or healthcare provider being accused upheld the standard of care and did not breach it. (Meaning, the Defendant doctor’s actions were appropriate under the circumstances.)

The circumstance of medical care often result in the standards changing. For instance, doctor’s actions with a patient during a well-check or routine physical may be very different than under emergency or life-threatening circumstances. That’s why the law says, “in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances”. This would also apply to changes in medical care or treatment that may not have been approved for use at the time of the occurrence.

In order to bring a medical malpractice case in Florida, the Plaintiff’s medical negligence lawyer must first have the patient/client’s medical records reviewed by a healthcare provider in order to determine what the facts of that particular care involved. The reviewing healthcare provider then makes a determination as to whether a physician or healthcare provider in question followed the rules that the standard of care sets forth. Did that doctor properly evaluate and treat the patient? Did that doctor make an accurate differential diagnosis of all the problems the patient could reasonably have had? Did the doctor properly inform the patient? Did the doctor make an appropriate and timely referral to a specialist? Did the doctor administer the correct medication, care and treatment? Did the doctor order the correct tests? Did the doctor order appropriate follow up? These are all questions that a reviewing physician or healthcare provider will analyze in order to determine whether the accused healthcare provider met the standard of care or fell below the standard of care

At Davis Law we routinely work with expert physicians and healthcare providers of numerous specialties throughout the country in order to review our client’s cases. Not all cases are alike and, oftentimes there are highly trained specialists within a narrow field of medicine that can provide the finest expert review. If you believe that you were a victim of medical malpractice, please contact our office for a free case evaluation. There is no cost associated with having your case reviewed to determine if you or your loved one was the victim of medical malpractice. We are bi-lingual and are available 24/7.

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