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Standard of Care

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Updated July 28, 2008

Definition: A standard of care is a formal diagnostic and treatment process a doctor will follow for a patient with a certain set of symptoms or a specific illness. That standard will follow guidelines and protocols that experts would agree with as most appropriate, also called "best practice."

In legal terms, a standard of care is used as the benchmark against a doctor's actual work. For example, in a malpractice lawsuit, the doctor's lawyers would want to prove that the doctor's actions were aligned with the standard of care. The plaintiff's lawyers would want to show how a doctor violated the accepted standard of care and was therefore negligent.

Standards of care are developed in a number of ways: Sometimes they are simply developed over time, and in other cases, they are the result of clinical trial findings.

A standard of care in one community will not necessarily be the same standard in another. Further, one doctor's standard can vary from another doctor's.

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