What Does a Doctor’s Duty of Care Mean?
Doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners are all bound by a legal duty of care. This means they must provide their patients with a reasonable standard of care. If this duty of care is breached, causing a patient to suffer an avoidable injury, there could be grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
A doctor’s duty to provide reasonable medical care
For a medical professional to meet their duty of care, he or she must provide each and every patient with a reasonable standard of medical care. There is no set definition of a ‘reasonable standard of care’. Rather, the benchmark is what any other reasonable physician would do in similar circumstances.
For example, imagine that you fall off your bike and attend the emergency department with severe pain and swelling in your arm. A reasonable physician would suspect a fracture and carry out an x-ray to confirm a diagnosis. If the treating doctor decides to discharge you instead, meaning your fracture remains undetected, then a reasonable standard of medical care has not been provided. The treating doctor would then have breached their duty of care towards you.
Or, imagine that you have an illness which is best treated with a medication called ABC. Instead, your doctor prescribes a medication called XYZ. This causes your condition to deteriorate. The question here is whether any reasonable doctor would also have prescribed drug XYZ. If not, your doctor has failed to provide a reasonable standard of care. Their legal duty of care towards you has therefore been breached.
Do you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim?
Establishing whether a medical practitioner has breached their duty of care is key to medical malpractice claims. Not all medical mistakes are deemed negligent, while many procedures carry unavoidable risks. A poor outcome is upsetting, but it is not necessarily the fault of medical practitioners.
However, there will be grounds for a medical malpractice claim if:
- A medical practitioner or organisation breaches their duty of care by failing to provide a reasonable standard of care; and
- This breach of duty causes you to suffer an illness or injury that would otherwise have been avoided
So, not only must there have been a breach of duty, it must also have caused you some kind of harm. Staying with the example of a missed fracture, imagine that you would have regained full function in your arm, but for the delay in diagnosis. In other words, you would have made a full recovery, but you didn’t because of the doctor’s actions. In this scenario, you would have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.
There are many other ways in which a medical malpractice claim might arise. Some of the most common include a misdiagnosis, a delay in diagnosis, surgical errors, birth injuries and a failure to obtain informed consent.
Making a claim for medical malpractice
The laws surrounding medical malpractice claim are complex. It can be difficult to understand whether a medical practitioner has met their legal duty of care towards you, or whether you have been the victim of substandard care. At John Mickelson Law Corporation, we can answer these questions for you. We provide expert legal advice to those who have received poor medical care and can explain the options available.
To speak to a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer, please contact us now for a free consultation.
Either fill in the free online enquiry form or call us on 604 684 0040.Go back to Blog