A New Tool for Assessing Standard of Care in Medical Malpractice Cases

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Background:Physician experts hired and prepared by litigants provide most of the information on standard of care for medical malpractice cases. Since this information may not be objective or accurate, the authors examined the feasibility and potential value of surveying peer physicians to assess standard of care.Methods:The survey method for assessing standard of care was evaluated for a medical malpractice case involving an abdominoplasty that had a poor cosmetic result. An abstract of the case that included the patient’s characteristics and physician’s decisions that were most likely to influence patient outcome was created from the transcribed testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness. This abstract and a survey that included questions about four decisions made by the defendant were sent to 28 plastic surgeons in the Midwest who were identified by searches of public documents.Results:Eleven plastic surgeons experienced in abdominoplasty completed the survey. Their responses in all four areas contrasted sharply with those of the highly credentialed medical expert for the plaintiff.Conclusions:These results suggest that physician surveys are feasible and may provide very different results than those from expert witnesses about standard of care in medical malpractice cases.

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