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Standard of Care: Patient-Centric Model

The phrase “standard of care” has a different meaning across professions. For doctors, the standard of care is patient-centric. Sir William Osler wrote, “Medicine is a science of uncertainty and an art of probability.”[1] The medical standard of care is ideally a consensus of approved treatment modalities and the accepted variations inherent to the “art of medicine.”


The law does not recognize “art” in medical practice but does recognize that the process is sufficiently complex that doctors should be involved in determining when care was appropriate. The legal standard of care involves “multiple moving targets”[2] that evaluate “the degree of care and skill that a physician or surgeon of the same medical specialty would use under similar circumstances.”[3] Attorneys employ a process-centric hindsight evaluation to define the medical standard of care, comparing the process of what was done with what could or should have been done.


Government entities and insurance companies view the standard of care as an end-result evaluation tool. To these entities, care is defined in outcome-centric terms. The “standard of care” is that care most likely to produce desired outcomes, evaluating overall cost management and patient health.