What is a Doctor’s Duty of Care?
Medical doctors and other health professionals owe a duty of care to their patients. A duty of care is the legal obligation doctors owe their patients to provide treatment in line with appropriate levels of care under the circumstances. This legal obligation is the first step in proving any medical malpractice claim.
How do medical malpractice lawyers prove that the doctor owed the plaintiff a duty of care?
Medical malpractice lawyers must prove that a doctor owed a legal duty of care to the injured party by showing that a doctor-patient relationship existed at the time the alleged medical malpractice happened. This is typically proved with medical records and testimony that show that the patient chose to be treated by the doctor accused of negligence, the doctor performed medical exams on the injured party for the purpose of treatment and that treatments by the doctor happened over a period of time.
What is the medical standard of care and how do we know if the duty of care has been breached?
The medical standard of care for the circumstances must be established. The medical standard of care is defined as the standard practices that a competent medical peer would have used under similar circumstances. Medical malpractice lawyers look to prove that the medical professional breached their duty of care by failing to use the degree of care and skill of a competent medical provider who practices the provider’s specialty, while accounting for the medical knowledge that is available to the physician. When a physician’s care falls below this standard then they have committed medical negligence. Note that other elements must be proved for a successful medical malpractice claim, including an injury caused by the negligence.
A doctor’s duty of care includes a duty to:
- Perform a basic medical exam appropriate to the symptoms
- Order tests to weed out or confirm a diagnosis when appropriate
- Refer the patient to a specialist when appropriate
- Disclose information about a diagnosis in a timely manner
- Disclose different treatment and procedure options (including no treatment) and the reasonable risks of each
- Disclose the risks associated with drugs being prescribed to the patient
- Disclose the consequences associated with drugs being prescribed to the patient that could affect other people such as drowsiness. This is important so the patient knows that it isn’t appropriate to drive or operate heavy machinery while taking the medication.
- Adequately supervise any medical treatment provided by the team.
- Many of these disclosures may be made by an RN, LNP or PA who works for the doctor, assuming that other doctors would find it reasonable to use these personnel to disclose the information this way.
- It is common for doctors to assign certain medical tasks to other personnel and this is okay, assuming that other doctors would find it reasonable to assign these types of tasks. An example of this is nurses providing vaccines.
Seek the help of a medical malpractice attorney
If you were injured because of medical negligence or lost a loved one due to a preventable medical error, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced medical malpractice attorney fight for justice on your behalf. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a medical negligence lawyer. Call the most experienced practicing medical malpractice attorneys Bellingham has at Tario & Associates, P.S. today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing people injured by medical negligence in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!