The Standard of Care: What to Expect from Healthcare Providers

Doctor With Stethoscope

Written by Jan Marin, Senior Associate & Lawyer

If you’re considering a medical malpractice case, it is important to know that healthcare providers are not held to a standard of perfection.  They must exercise a reasonable degree of care. But what on earth does that mean exactly?

In this two-part blog, I will first discuss what we mean by the term “standard of care”. In a second blog, I’ll explain why it is essential for the plaintiff to establish “causation” following a breach in the standard of care in order to prove their case.

Standard of care

In layman’s terms this essentially means ‘the appropriate care you should expect from your healthcare provider’.

The standard is set by determining if other medical providers, with similar experience/training and facing similar circumstances, would act in the same way.

Medical providers are human and cannot be held to a standard of perfection. Although their clinical judgment may have resulted in an error that caused an injury to their patient, if they exercised reasonable care and skill, then the standard of care would be met. If, however, other medical providers would, by and large, make a different choice or offer different treatment, there may be a breach of the standard of care. Medical providers also have a duty to treat only what is within their expertise and treating a patient with a condition they are not familiar with or using medications or techniques outside of their training can also lead to finding that they have breached the standard of care.

There are also different expectations depending on the level of training.  For example, if a medical provider promotes herself as a specialist about certain medical conditions, the standard of care a patient should reasonably expect may be higher than if treatment was provided by a general practitioner.

Examples of breaches in standards of care

Some common breaches can include:

  • Failure to monitor a baby during labour and delivery
  • Failure to refer a patient to a specialist
  • Missing signs or symptoms which indicate a serious condition when presenting to the ER
  • Failure to order, follow up or keep track of tests resulting in a delayed diagnosis
  • A medical provider not adequately explaining the risks of a treatment or obtaining consent for treatment

These are just a few examples and certainly do not cover every situation which can arise in medical malpractice cases.

The expert’s role

Determining the standard of care is always case and fact specific. It also involves very specialized knowledge.  While an experienced medical malpractice lawyer may have a general understanding of many areas of medical treatment, we always require the input and review of a medical expert.  In fact, the Court requires an expert opinion on the standard of care. Cases without a supportive expert opinion can be dismissed. For this reason, one of our first steps is to consult with experts about the care provided by the medical practitioner.

When in doubt, check it out

It can be difficult for patients to know if they have received the appropriate care after seeking medical treatment. We can certainly tell if a doctor has a poor bedside manner, but this isn’t a matter for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

However, if you had an unexpectedly poor outcome after medical treatment, it’s worth contacting a lawyer specializing in medical malpractice to investigate whether a medical provider’s negligence or incompetence played a role in your injury.

In my next post, I’ll explore why identifying a breach in the standard of care is only one step in this process. Establishing that this breach caused your injury and proving you suffered damages as a result is essential.

Helping our clients understand their rights under the law and being ready to explain the process every step of the way is a part of Gluckstein Lawyers’ commitment to full-circle care. To learn more about how we can help you if you believe you may have been injured by a medical provider, contact Jan Marin at, or call 416-408-4252, Ext.246.


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