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Why medical guidelines are good for patients, but confusing

Medical science, as readers know, is not a perfected body of knowledge that cannot be improved upon. Rather, our knowledge of human biology and how to treat patients is continuing to improve. This is obviously a good thing for patients as the way health care professionals approach medical care is continually improving.

Another beneficial effect of continual improvement of our knowledge of medical science and effective medical care is that patients who are harmed have a basis for holding negligent doctors accountable for failing to abide by accepted standards of care. 

Standards of care, while not cast in stone, are often drawn from guidelines drafted by collaborative bodies or organizations made up of medical professionals. Medical guidelines are not necessarily authoritative when it comes to the issue of standard of care. Part of the reason for this is that there are very often significant differences between different sets of guidelines dealing with the same medical procedure.  

For instance, whereas a number of guidelines for breast cancer screening recommend annual screening for woman between the ages of 40 and 49, other sets of guidelines only recommend screening women in that age bracket if it seems appropriate to do so. Given that screening does involve some risks, some women may choose not to screen for breast cancer unless it is necessary to do so under a given set of guidelines.

Another example is the use of aspirin for primary prevention. While some sets of guidelines recommend no more than 100 mg per day for men over 50, others recommend no more than 162 mg per day for the same age group. For certain individuals, the risks of taking too much aspirin can be serious, so the question of which set of guidelines to use is important.

In our next post, we'll continue speaking about this topic, specifically as it relates to medical malpractice litigation

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