Medical Malpractice Implications of Clinical Practice Guidelines

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Abstract

Clinical practice guidelines aim to improve medical care by clarifying and making useful recommendations to providers. Although providers should account for patients’ unique characteristics when determining a treatment plan, it is generally perceived as good practice to follow guidelines when applicable. This is of interest in malpractice litigation, where it is essential to establish a standard of care to evaluate the performances of providers. Although the opinions of expert witnesses are used to determine standards of care, guidelines are expected to play a leading role. Guidelines alone should not establish a legal standard but may help inform this discussion in the courtroom. Therefore, it is incumbent that excellent, practical, and timely guidelines are continually created and updated in a transparent way. These guidelines must be very clear and underscore the various strengths of recommendation based on the quality of available evidence.

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