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What Are a Doctor’s Standard of Care Essentials?

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Doctors have a standard of care they have to uphold whenever they treat a patient, but what are these standards and how do they work in practice?

Clinical negligence is a common occurrence in the UK due to the sheer volume of patients treated by the NHS on a daily basis. However, many patients aren’t aware they’ve been treated by a negligent doctor because the standard of care they receive is all they’ve ever known.

In this post, we’re going to share the standard of care essentials every doctor in the UK has to follow so you know whether you’re receiving the quality of care you’re entitled to.

How Does a Doctor’s Standard of Care Work in the Medical Profession?

The standard of care a doctor is legally obliged to provide to a patient is laid out in the ‘Good medical practice’ guidance provided by the General Medical Council (GMC). It’s the doctor’s responsibility to be familiar with this document and follow the guidance.

‘Good medical practice’ states that a good doctor should:

  • Make the care of their patients their primary concern.
  • Be competent and keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date.
  • Take swift action if they believe patient safety is being compromised.
  • Establish and maintain good partnerships with their patients and colleagues.
  • Work to maintain trust in them and the profession by being open, honest and acting with integrity.

The guidance is actually split into four distinct sections that dig deeper into the standard of care doctors are expected to provide. In every situation, doctors are expected to use their professional judgement and expertise to apply the principles described in each section.

1. Knowledge skills and performance

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Knowledge skills and performance requires doctors to be competent in all aspects of their work. This includes management, research and teaching as well as keeping their professional skills and knowledge up to date.

This means that doctors have to make sure they’re learning all the time and aren’t falling behind on their knowledge. They’re also required to take part in activities that develop their competence and performance.

Once they have the knowledge, they have to be able to apply it in practice. This includes all aspects of assessing a patient’s condition, prescribing effective treatment, and making good use of the resources available to them.

Finally, doctors need to be able to record their work clearly, accurately, and legibly. These documents need to be stored securely, and should contain:

  • Relevant clinical findings.
  • The decisions made, actions agreed, and the people making them.
  • Information given to the patient.
  • Drugs prescribed or treatment given to the patient.
  • Who made the records and when.

2. Safety and quality

Doctors have to contribute to and comply with systems created to protect patients. This includes taking part in regular reviews and audits of their own work, taking steps to address any issues, and carrying out further training where necessary.

They also have to respond to risks to safety, i.e. promote and encourage a culture that allows all staff to raise concerns safely as well as take prompt action if a patient’s safety, dignity or comfort appears compromised.

The final thing doctors have to do is make sure they don’t have any infectious conditions they could pass onto their patients. If they suspect this to be the case, they should seek the advice of their colleagues and immunise themselves if it’s a common condition.

3. Communication, partnership and teamwork

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The third section of a doctor’s standard of care is communication, partnership, and teamwork. This section states that doctors should:

  • Treat patients as individuals and respect their dignity
    • Treat them politely, considerately and respect their views
    • Respect their patients’ right to confidentiality
  • Work in partnership with patients
    • Listen to, and respond to, patients’ concerns and preferences
    • Give patients the information they need in a way they can understand
    • Respect their right to reach decisions with you about their treatment
    • Support patients in caring for themselves
  • Work with colleagues in ways that best serve patients’ interests
  • Provide continuous and coordinated care
  • Establish and maintain partnerships with patients
  • Teach, train, support and assess doctors and students

4. Maintaining trust

The final requirement of the doctor’s standard of care is to maintain trust. This includes:

  • Showing respect for patients
    • Not using their position to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a patient or someone close to them
    • Not expressing personal views with a patient in a way that might exploit their vulnerability
    • Being open and honest with patients if things go wrong, putting it right, offering an apology, and explaining what went wrong
  • Treating colleagues and patients fairly and without discrimination
    • Give priority to patients based on their clinical need
    • Not refusing to treat or delaying treatment based on a patient’s actions or lifestyle the doctor believes contributed to their condition
    • Not allowing their personal views to affect the treatment they provide to a patient or the professional relationship between them and a colleague
  • Acting with honestly and integrity
    • Communicate information honestly and not share confidential patient information
    • Be honest when giving evidence to courts or tribunals
    • Be honest in financial and commercial dealings with patients, employers, insurers and other organisations or individuals

According to the standard of care, doctors are personally accountable for their professional practice and must always be prepared to justify their decisions and actions.

Are Those All the Standard of Care Essentials Doctors Have to Follow?

In this post, we’ve given you a rundown of the standards of care a doctor is expected to follow in the UK.

The information shared here might seem like a lot, but the actual ‘Good medical practice’ guidance is even more detailed. Hopefully you now know enough about doctor’s standard of care to spot when you’re receiving negligent medical treatment from your doctor.

Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained medical professional. Be sure to consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you’re seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.