Standard of Care

The “standard of care” is among the most pretentious and misused gimmicks in health care, and I would like to see those words eliminated entirely from the diction of my colleagues.

I ran a search for “standard of care definition.” Let’s see what our highest ranking page has to say about the standard of care…..

Standard of care:

1. A diagnostic and treatment process that a clinician should follow for a certain type of patient, illness, or clinical circumstance. Adjuvant chemotherapy for lung cancer is “a new standard of care, but not necessarily the only standard of care.” (New England Journal of Medicine, 2004)

2. In legal terms, the level at which the average, prudent provider in a given community would practice. It is how similarly qualified practitioners would have managed the patient’s care under the same or similar circumstances. The medical malpractice plaintiff must establish the appropriate standard of care and demonstrate that the standard of care has been breached.

The standard of care is not a concrete concept with a singular interpretation, yet many people continue to employ it as though it were. It is a poor abstraction of the logic of average practitioners that can only actually be applied inside a courtroom. Outside the courthouse, it is nothing more than a legal bogeyman, and has absolutely no place dictating care.

Clinical decisions should rely on a knowledge of the literature, your materials, and a history of clinical experiences. Anyone who enacts real clinical judgment sees the standard of care for what it really is, a pathetic euphemism for a cookbook style approach to health care that is accepted by average doctors who lack the desire to achieve excellence in their field.


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