In most jurisdictions, you will have to prove a doctor-patient relationship if you sue for medical malpractice. If this relationship existed, then the physician will have owed you a certain standard of care.
To win a medical malpractice case, you will typically need to prove:
- You had a doctor-patient relationship with the provider in question;
- They had a duty of care to you;
- The doctor failed to offer the acceptable standard of care expected from someone with their experience and training (and, often, from someone practicing in the same geographic area); and
- Their medical negligence caused you to suffer further illness or injury.
Without the relationship and the required level of care, it may be impossible to prove you suffered as a victim of medical negligence. This means you might not be able pursue a successful medical malpractice case against someone who did not see you as a patient or attempt to treat your injuries.
What Is a Doctor-Patient Relationship?
The doctor-patient relationship exists when the patient goes to the doctor for care, and the doctor offers care and treatment. For most people, the doctor in question was the attending physician on their case, their primary care physician, or the surgeon who performed their operation. These are all clear-cut examples of an established doctor-patient relationship.
For example, imagine you went to the local emergency room with slurred speech, pain, and weakness on the right side of your body. The attending physician conducts an exam on you and diagnoses you with a heat-related illness. They offer intravenous fluids for hydration but do not run tests to rule out a stroke. Later, your symptoms get worse, and you have to return to the hospital. If you suffer permanent damage because the physician failed to diagnose you with a stroke and you did not receive prompt treatment, you may have grounds for a successful claim. In this case, the attending physician in the emergency room is your doctor of record. They saw you, diagnosed you, and offered treatment. This is an established doctor-patient relationship, even if you never saw the doctor before that day.
When Does This Question Come Into Play?
Where things often get hazy is when another doctor assists with a patient or offers an informal consultation. The strength of the relationship is not as obvious in these cases. The courts often leave the decision to the jury to decide. As a general rule, the doctor-patient relationship must exist at the time you suffered from the injury or advancing illness described in your claim.
For example, imagine your doctor calls an oncologist to consult on your case. The oncologist offers their opinion based on the information your treating physician provided, but never examines you on their own or offers a specific course of treatment. These facts might not constitute a doctor-patient relationship (but, of course, every case is governed by its own unique circumstances and the controlling law of the jurisdiction).
Typically, you can assume there is a doctor-patient relationship if the doctor rendered care or treatment to the patient and was doing so at the time they suffered the injury or illness in question. However, if they just offered advice to another doctor, or if the status of your relationship changed before the injury occurred, there may not be an established relationship to support your claim. A medical malpractice lawyer can help you understand how this might apply in your particular situation.
How Can I Get Advice and Guidance About My Situation?
Medical malpractice claims require supporting evidence. This often includes the testimony of a medical expert with similar training and experience as the doctor in question. This testimony can potentially confirm your doctor failed to provide an adequate standard of care by venturing away from the proper protocols and procedures a reasonable doctor would follow. Along with your medical records and documentation of your doctor-patient relationship, this can help you win the compensation you deserve.
The medical malpractice team at Pintas & Mullins can help you obtain expert witness testimony and follow the specific procedures your state requires for these cases. We can also uncover evidence proving a doctor-patient relationship and navigate the medical malpractice claims process.
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