The Significance of Standards of Care

I don't know if you have noticed, but you have probably heard the phrase "standard of care" bandied about a bit during your residency program at some point.  But, first of all, what does "standard of care" mean? Well, according to MedicineNet, it is "a diagnostic and treatment process that a clinician should follow for a certain type of patient, illness, or clinical circumstance."

However, not all standards are the same. Some measures are national standards, and others are merely within one's department or practice. But, why is it so important to all physicians, and more importantly, specifically for radiologists? And, what happens if we all don't meet the "standard of care"? Well, the result may not be so beneficial for you or your practice. Consequently, standards of care are of critical relevance to our world.

Legal Reasons To Follow National And State Standards Of Care

If a practice or its members are not following the best national/state standards of care, they are prime candidates for a lawsuit. To that end, one of the three pillars of a successful malpractice lawsuit is not meeting the standard of care, so, that alone should make you quake in your pants if you do not abide by these norms.

Importance of Individual Practice Standards

Well, it's not only about the legal issues when you do not follow national and state standards. Additional trouble can ensue if you do not apply standards within your group. What do I mean by that? Well, not all practices follow the same rules because norms throughout the country and state can differ widely. Let me give an example.

If you decided to look up the requirements for how to determine which patients are appropriate candidates for a hysterosalpingogram (a test to check the anatomy of the uterus and fallopian tubes), the information is all over the map. At best, the data about how you should decide which patients should get the test is scattered and based on differing experiences. Some groups advise that you should perform the procedure between 6-10 days after a menstrual period without additional testing. Others recommend that patients should also have a urine B-HCG level before considering the patient for the test.

In either case, each practice standard is theoretically acceptable. However, if each member of radiology practice uses different criteria for deciding upon when to perform the procedure, what happens? The secretaries become confused about how and when to schedule the examination. And, the technologist or nurses can easily forget what each radiologist requires before the exam. It becomes a mess of confusion. So, practices need standards to prevent these inefficiencies.

Moreover, god forbid if somehow, a patient discovered that they were pregnant before the test, and one radiologist did not test the patient with a B-HCG level (unlike all the others in the practice), then that radiologist did not meet the standard of care for the practice. Theoretically, that could also open up the radiologist to additional legal actions.

Standards Of Care From The Patient Side

Finally, from the patient point of view, nowadays patients can look up information about best practices and procedures online before deciding to get a test. If your group does not meet these standards, and the patient becomes aware of a subsequent complication related to not meeting these norms, at best, the patient may never return. And, at worst, your practice becomes at increased risk of receiving legal action.

Fight For Group Standards Of Care

As you can see, we all need to be on the same page in any radiology group. Changing practice standards to vary from national and state norms can lead to disaster for the group and the individual radiologist. Moreover, creating specific practice standards within a group can be critical to maintaining efficiency and reducing confusion among the staff. So, think twice if you decide to be OK with not meeting standards in your practice, it may be your future career at stake!

Barry Julius, MD, is a board-certified radiologist at St. Barnabas Medical Center. He developed the educational website radsresident that aims to connect radiologists. He is a 2018–19 Doximity Author.

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