A medical specialist is a doctor who is an expert in treating specific health problems, diseases, certain age groups, or parts of the body. For example, a pediatrician may be considered a specialist because they focus on treating children. Medical specialists must pass rigorous exams in order to be certified to practice in a particular specialty.
Some examples of medical specialties include:
Allergy and Immunology
Cardiology and Cardiovascular surgery
Neurology and Neurosurgery
Ophthalmology (diseases of the eye)
Because of the increased level of skill involved in practicing as a specialist, medical specialists are held to higher standards of care than most health care practitioners. Sub-standard medical care by a specialist can result in a claim for medical malpractice.
What is the Standard of Care for Medical Specialists?
All medical professionals are held to a basic standard of care for medical malpractice when rendering treatments to a patient. In particular, medical specialists are required to employ the same degree of care and skill that a reasonably competent specialist in the same field would exercise under similar circumstances. This is also known as the “National Standard of Care”.
Thus, an oncologist would be held to the same accepted standards as exercised by oncologists. They would not be held to the same standard as a general practitioner or specialist from a different field such as a pediatrician. This is because every field of specialty is different from the next, and each specialty requires different safety and health measures.
However, even within a particular medical specialization, a health care professional can be subject to various other standards of care, depending on the laws of the state that they practice in. For example, some states enforce the “Locality Rule”. The locality rule holds specialists to the degree of knowledge and skill that is generally exercised by the same specialists in the local community where they practice.
Under the locality rule, a surgeon who practices in a rural area would be held to the surgery standards of their own rural area, and not the standards for a neighboring urban community. This is because urban and rural areas are often associated with different distributions of technology and health care facilities. It is often the case that access to medical technology is more limited in rural areas as compared with urban centers.
Therefore you should check your local laws to determine exactly how a certain specialist would be required to practice in your area. Consulting with an attorney is also helpful in learning the medical malpractice laws of your local municipality.
What if My Medical Specialist has violated the Standard of Care?
If your medical specialist has violated the standard of care for their particular specialty, you may have a claim for medical malpractice according to a negligence theory.
In order to recover damages for your losses under a negligence theory, you’d need to prove:
The particular standard of care for the physician’s medical specialty
Your medical specialist breached the standard of care
You suffered actual, verifiable losses or injuries
The violation was the cause of your injuries or losses
Due to the complexity and diversity of medical standards for specialties, it is usually necessary to utilize an expert witness to testify for you. Your expert witness will be able to describe the particular standard of care that your physician should have followed, and they can identify exactly how the standard of care was violated.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Sub-Standard Medical Care by a Specialist?
Medical malpractice suits can often be very complex. They often require the use of an expert witness. In addition, the laws vary greatly according to state and may even be different from city to city. For this reason, it is very important that you consult with a lawyer if you believe that you have received sub-standard medical care from a professional specialist. A personal injury attorney can assist in you filing your claim and preparing your case.