Let's say you visit a Massachusetts doctor seeking diagnosis of various symptoms your body is presenting. Perhaps you haven't been feeling well but can't put your finger on why. If your doctor says there's really no reason to suspect you are suffering anything other than fatigue and stress, and you later learn you have a serious health problem that likely should have been obvious to a licensed physician, who is responsible for any illness or injuries you may have suffered in the meantime?
A key factor toward answering that question lies in the phrase "duty of care." While no doctor is perfect or always able to correctly diagnose a particular problem, prescribe proper treatment and help every patient attain complete recovery, all doctors are obligated to keep patients as safe as possible and to fulfill their responsibilities toward their patients according to accepted medical standards of care.
What is duty of care?
You may be inclined to think that a doctor always owes a duty of care to every person who seeks his or her care. However, this is not always true. The following list includes information to clarify duty of care and shows that in some situations, a doctor a may not be obliged to offer care or treatment at all:
- If a doctor has volunteered to help someone in medical need, the doctor has established a duty of care.
- Let's say you're in a restaurant and suddenly feel faint. You approach someone at another table whom the waiter told you happened to be a doctor and ask that person to assist you. Even if the person is indeed a licensed physician, he or she is not obligated to come to your aid and therefore owes you no duty.
- If a doctor/patient relationship is officially established (by making an appointment and visiting a particular doctor's office regarding a health condition, for instance) then a duty of care is also established.
- If your doctor fails to fulfill a duty of care and it results in your injury, you may have grounds to file a medical malpractice claim for negligence.
Medical malpractice claims fall under the category of personal injury law. In all such cases, the burden of proof is on you or whoever filed the claim. You may enlist third party testimony or other assistance to help you make your case in court. Many Massachusetts residents injured by doctors' duty of care failures seek justice with the help of experienced injury attorneys on their sides.