To physicians, the standard of care is the diagnostic and treatment process that a doctor should practice for a given illness, patient, and set of circumstances. This is not entirely different from the legal definition of the phrase, "standard of care." In fact, lawyers use this phrase to mean the level of care at which the average care provider gives the patient in a given area of medicine. These two definitions are very similar. The medical definition of the standard of care is more specific and scientific, whereas, the legal definition of the phrase is more oriented towards tradition and medical precedent.
Many medical malpractice laws are based on medical professional guidelines for the standard of care for common illnesses and certain types of patients. It would not be possible to codify all of the possible variants in determining if the proper standard of care has been administered to the patient. It is for this reason that malpractice lawyers and judges rely on medical associations, doctor's guilds, and other professional community guidelines to litigate disputes over existing malpractice laws.
Many states have adopted malpractice laws that mirror the American Heart Association's guidelines for malpractice suits involving heart patients. Guidelines AHA uses are meant to uphold the standard of care in medical malpractice laws. This is because most lawmakers are not physicians, and are not qualified to set standards of care. Therefore, the standard of care basis of malpractice laws is provided by the medical community itself; namely guidelines AHA has provided.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) provides more general guidelines for the standard of care in accordance with state and federal malpractice laws. Guidelines AHA provides ensure a standard of care as well as rights to privacy throughout most American hospitals that are part of the AHA. Guidelines AHA sets are critical in malpractice suits because a hospital that cannot live up to its own standards and obligations to patients, should be punished for breach of ethics.
In absence of malpractice laws, the guidelines AHA sets, or other medical associations, are used in malpractice suits as evidence. Businesses, including hospitals, must live up to their claims to avoid deceiving their clients. The standard of care must be the same for all patients. Doctors and hospitals are, for the most part, compliant with the fulfillment of their obligation to the patient. If a doctor makes a negligent error with regard to standard of care, then malpractice laws determine that the patient has a clear civil case against the hospital or the doctor.
The American Heart Association's standard of care is ethically binding to most cardiologists and health care professionals treating a patient's heart or cardiovascular condition. AHA guidelines, as well as the general medical community, requires that indigent patients must be given the same standard of care that paying patients get. Physicians are required to treat patients without discrimination. By law, emergency room doctors may not deny a patient of care.
Indigent patients must receive medical care, and malpractice laws hold doctors accountable for the way they are treated. Contrary to myths, indigent patients do not frequently sue to get out of debt for their medical bills. Doctors are subject to the same medical liability rules.