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What is the difference between evidence-based standards and the legal standard of care?

In our previous post, we looked briefly at a policy statement recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics which calls for non-medical home facilities offering pediatric care to be held to the same standard of care as medical home facilities. In particular, the statement called for these facilities to incorporate evidence-based standards of care, just like medical home facilities do.

“Evidence-based” is somewhat of a hot button term in medical care, particularly in neonatal and pediatric care. The term generally refers to an approach to medicine which incorporates research-based evidence, but it should certainly also include the provider’s clinical expertise while honoring patients preferences and values, all the aim of achieving the best possible outcome. When done well, evidence-based practice is supposed to improve outcomes and patient satisfaction, and reduce costs of care. 

Proponents of evidence-based practice say that it allows health care providers to stay current with medical best practices, and that it helps improve transparency and accountability among providers.

Despite the benefits of evidence-based medical care, the fact is that the legal standard of care is not necessarily synonymous with current evidence-based standards. From a legal perspective, standard of care refers to the standard of conduct to which a reasonable physician in the same specialty would have taken under the same or similar circumstances. Because the standard of care admits of potential disagreements among experts, medical malpractice litigation often centers on the issue of the reasonableness of a given course of action or inaction. Evidence-based standards may or may not constitute the legal standard of care in any given case.

For patients who have been harmed in the course of medical care, demonstrating the unreasonableness of a negligent physician’s course of action is an important goal in litigation. Working with an experienced attorney helps ensure an injured patient has the best possible opportunity to hold a negligent physician accountable.

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