Health care workers are committed to providing patients with an acceptable level of care. When the fail to do so and patients are harmed, they can be sued for medical malpractice. Experts work together to determine the standard of care, but it shifts with circumstances. During the outbreak of COVID-19, standards of care are changing, but physicians, nurses, and others still must provide patients with the best possible care.
Why the Pandemic Changes Standards of Care
In an ideal world, patients would always get the best possible care, up to the highest acceptable standards. When circumstances make that impossible, the standard has to change. During the coronavirus pandemic, hospitals have faced shortages in beds, equipment, protective gear, and staff. The number of patients becoming ill and requiring care has simply overwhelmed medical facilities.
These shortages in the face of so many patients is what has forced the standard of care to change and adapt to the new circumstances. Hospitals and other facilities must decide who gets a bed, who gets a ventilator, and who gets more time and effort from staff. These are difficult decisions that must be made while resources are being strained by so many outbreaks around the world.
Crisis Standards of Care Guidelines
In response to the shortages and the outbreaks, many hospitals have switched to using the Crisis Standards of Care. The guidelines were created by a committee from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) and were released to encourage medical facilities to the best possible choices for patients.
The NAS issued the first Crisis Standards of Care in 2009. This was done to help facilities coping with the medical and hospital crises arising after Hurricane Sandy. What makes Crisis Standards of Care different from the normal standard of care is that the focus shifts from individuals to the population at large.
The new standards help medical professionals make decisions based on what will save the most lives. During a crisis situation, like the pandemic, individuals cannot necessarily expect to get standards of care based on their specific needs. Instead of giving each person the best possible care, doctors are forced to think of the bigger picture and make difficult choices.
The guidelines do not tell medical decision makers exactly what to do. What they provide is a framework for making those tough choices. Unfortunately for patients who end up harmed because of limited care, the guidelines also provide some protection from medical malpractice lawsuits.
While it may make sense to limit liability during this difficult time, it does mean that some patients will be barred from seeking justice or compensation that they need and deserve. There are exceptions to the protection, but it gives medical workers far more leeway in making mistakes when providing care.
Even during a pandemic, patients are entitled to the best possible medical care for the given situation. If you or someone you love was harmed or died as a result of poor care, contact a medical malpractice lawyer. This legal specialist can help you determine if you have a case and what steps to take next to win justice for the harm caused.