What is the Medical Standard of Care?
With so many health care options available today, we often hear doctor’s discussing the “medical standard of care” … What is the standard level of care? Is our practice living up to the expectations of our field? These – incredibly common – questions are a hot-topic for debate with many medical professionals. Rarely will two doctors agree on an exact definition of the term; let alone agree on its practical applications in real-world scenarios. Given its subjective nature, we aim to shed some light on this idiosyncratic phrase so you – as a patient – can determine for yourself if your doctor shares your priorities.
Used most commonly in malpractice law, the “medical standard of care” is regularly defined as “The level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the circumstances that led to the alleged malpractice.” It’s hard to read that explanation without being reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, when he said “[I don’t know what it is], but I know it when I see it.”
Given, when Justice Stewart expressed this thought it was in regards to obscenity in motion pictures, but the meaning is easily transferrable to the medical term. Basically, we don’t agree on what the medical standard of care is, but we know when it isn’t being met. So, it is up to the patient (you) to determine if your doctor/dentist is meeting – or exceeding – this not so lofty goal.
For instance, in the dental field, we are seeing a great surge in the development of “conveyor belt” dental offices. These practices pride themselves on the volume of patients that they see every day and their low cost; while sacrificing their quality of care and expertise of their staff. They found a niche in the medical field by exploiting PPO and HMO plans, making them the most affordable options for many Americans. Oddly enough, these facilities do meet the legal definition of the standard of care. However, many independent dentists view these “cavity, drill and fill” practices as the lowest-common-denominator in their field, and subtly hint that they do not fulfill the standard of care that they believe their patients deserve.
With a conveyor belt dentist office, you can still receive a good cleaning with the possibility of a somewhat thorough health exam. However, with the amount of patients that visit the office every day, the chances of your health-care needs being “lost in the crowd” are quite high.
One the other side of the spectrum, are independent (or “family”) dentist offices, such as Celebrity Smiles & General Dentistry in Westmont. Since these practices are typically not run by a major corporation or trust, the lead doctor is allowed to set their own standards of care. Usually, their patients benefit as a result. In fact, a great example of this happening in real life just occurred at our practice…
Dr. Schefdore (lead dentist at Celebrity Smiles) is known for two things: Skilled dentistry and impulsive buying habits. So, when he came into our office the other day saying that he had bought a laser, we shrugged it off as just some new toy. However, when he began to educate us about its applications as a non-surgical, non-scarring, gentler alternative to major gum/soft-palette surgical tools, we truly saw how our practice stands above the others.
There is no way that in the “mega-dentist” facilities that such a seemingly absurd – yet highly beneficial – piece of equipment would have ever been approved by the corporate accountants. Yet here, it is a normal fixture in the examination room and is helping dozens of our patients to receive essential dental procedures. This is only possible due to Dr. Schefdore’s opinion of what the medical standard of care is. If he feels that your mouth deserves the superior care of modern technology, then that is what you shall receive. Yet it isn’t just the fancy new equipment that will set one practice apart from the other, it’s the little details.
Celebrity Smiles & General Dentistry has made the comfort of its patients a priority since its founding over 30 years ago. By visiting our office in person you can have your own HD television for you to watch during your exam, take advantage of our messaging dentist chairs to ease your stress, all while lounging in a clean and recently renovated office. Yet if you go to other practices, you might only get a crowded lobby, flooded in fluorescent light, with Kenny G blaring from a blown-out speaker as a surly hygienist barks orders at you. Although Dr. Schefdore and his staff do have a reputation of going above and beyond expectations, it is the little niceties that show you how much your doctor values your comfort; and what their definition for the standard of care really is.