The purpose of the medical standard of care is to determine if doctors are providing a level of care consistent with other members of the same medical community. If a doctor deviates from standards that all other doctors in their field agree on, and if that deviation results in a significant injury for a patient, that doctor may be held liable for injuries to a patient.
Though the “standard of care” sounds like one, unified standard that all healthcare professionals must follow, it is actually a general term for many individual standards that are set within specialty medicine fields.
The General Standard of Care In Maryland Medical Malpractice
All healthcare professionals are required to meet a general standard of care that focuses on risk assessment. Healthcare professionals must provide the same type and level of care that any other reasonable healthcare professional with the same training and experience would provide under similar circumstances. In other words, healthcare professionals must be able to make reasonable risk assessments about a variety of medical care in their fields like: does this patient need procedure A or B? Do the risks of this diagnostic tests outweigh the benefits for the patient?
In addition to properly managing risk assessment, doctors must also meet certain professional requirements to meet the standard of care. Doctors must meet the education requirements for their field, maintain professional standards, and must keep up with current medical practices that may shift the standard of care.
Medical Specialty Standards That May Differ From The General Standard Of Care
After graduating medical school, all doctors must specialize in a specific area of medicine. Some doctors are called “specialty doctors” and undergo extensive training in a very specific area of medicine. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) recognizes 24 specialty ABMS Member Boards that certify doctors in specialty fields of medicine. Some of these specialties also have the option of sub-specialty certificates.
The recognized specialty boards are:
- Allergy and Immunology
- Colon and Rectal Surgery
- Emergency Medicine
- Family Medicine
- Internal Medicine
- Medical Genetics and Genomics
- Neurological Surgery
- Nuclear Medicine
- Obstetrics and Gynecology
- Orthopedic Surgery
- Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
- Plastic Surgery
- Preventative Medicine
- Psychiatry and Neurology
- Thoracic Surgery
Specialty doctors usually undergo more education and training than general doctors, and are consequently held to higher standards of care.
Training And Education Qualifications For Specialists
Specialty doctors invest many years of education and training to become certified to practice in fields of specialty medicine.
To gain licensure and certification, specialty doctors must complete medical school and go on to work in fellowship programs in their field. Some specialty doctors will be required to complete two fellowships, and some will need to complete one to two year fellowship programs to sub-specialize after their residencies.
Education is just one of many steps that specialty doctors need to take to become qualified for practice. These doctors must pass lengthy state medical examinations, and must become board certified through specific medical boards. Specialty doctors are required to maintain professional qualifications and keep up with current medical standards through continued education classes. Qualification is an ongoing task for these doctors and it does not end with a medical degree.
Just as standards of care develop with changes in medicine, qualifications for specialty doctors also change to meet updated standards in different medical fields. Medical boards work to ensure that their qualifications for certification guarantee that doctors who gain qualification have the ability to meet standards of care.
About 31% of all malpractice cases focus on a failure to diagnose, and another 31% focus on injuries a patient suffered while under the care of a healthcare professional. Specialty doctors are expected to have enough knowledge in their field to be mindful of impotent diagnostic tests, and skillful enough to execute treatments and procedures without unnecessary injury to the patient.
Matching Standards of Care
When healthcare professionals are accused of medical malpractice or of causing a birth injury, expert witness will testify in court about the standard of care in the particular case and whether or not the healthcare professional met that standard. However, there are limitations to the type of medical experts that can testify.
An emergency room doctor in a small, rural town will not face the same standards as an emergency room professional in Baltimore, so a rural doctor would not be used to testify about a case in a major city with a busy ER. Similarly, a family pediatrician would not be used a as an expert in a case involving adult cardiac surgery.