Last week I mentioned the term "standard of care" in my post about urinary tract infections (UTI) in dogs. After I submitted it, I got to thinking, “Will everyone know what a standard of care is?” It’s not as straightforward as you might think.

There is no universally accepted definition for "standard of care," but this one is pretty typical:

…the standard of care required of and practiced by the average, reasonably prudent, competent veterinarian in the community

The Animal Legal and Historical Society cites Dyess v. Caraway, as the origin of that phraseology.

When I talk to owners, I get the feeling that most look at "standard of care" as meaning something more akin to "the best care" or "care that is supported by the latest research," and I’m afraid I used this more colloquial definition in last week’s post. But in legalese, the term obviously means something quite different.

To get a feel for what a standard of care is, you would have to ask a large number of veterinarians how they treat a specific condition. Next, you should throw out any whacky answers that fall far outside of the norm and then take the most frequently mentioned response out of those that remain as your answer.

But that’s not the end of it. As Dyess v. Caraway says, a standard of care is community specific. So, if you’re interested in the standard of care in New York City, you have to look at what’s being done in NYC versus what’s normal for Gladstone, MI (no offense to the "yoopers" out there, my husband is one and I can’t help but poke fun).

Determining whether or not a pet has received the standard of care is most important when allegations of malpractice arise. I’ve heard owners complain that their veterinarians failed to maintain an adequate standard of care when they did not recommend what I would consider to be a cutting edge procedure or treatment. While this is unacceptable from a communications point of view (owners should always be aware of all their options), not performing a kidney transplant on a cat in renal failure, for example, does not breach the standard of care in any part of the country.

As my lawyer cousin is fond of stating, from a legal point of view you only have a right to C+ work. Of course, we were talking about home maintenance projects, not veterinary care. I certainly hope that all of you have sought out and found veterinarians who perform A level work. Just know that they are practicing medicine well above the standard of care.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Byelikova Oksana / via Shutterstock