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Ann Emerg Med. 2012 Mar;59(3):191-5. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2011.07.037. Epub 2011 Sep 9.

Altering the standard of care in disasters--unnecessary and dangerous.

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Center for Disaster Medical Sciences, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California Irvine School of Medicine, Orange, CA, USA.


After September 11, 2001, the United States began examining approaches to the delivery of medical care during disasters when demand exceeds available resources. One seemingly popular option is the creation of "crisis" or "altered" care standards meant to reduce the legal standard or duty of care for medical responders. However, evidence supporting the need for reduced care standards is lacking. Concern for liability exists but it is not evidence based. The actual risk for litigation is minimal, according to experience with multiple disasters during the last 15 years. Even if a lower legal standard or duty of care were to be adopted, it is unlikely this would reduce the risk of liability because violation of this lower standard could still result in an allegation of malpractice. Creating algorithms to equitably and rationally allocate scarce resources is necessary and appropriate, but altering the legal standard of care will not contribute to this process. Rather than inhibiting the creation of these protocols, the current legal standard of care helps guarantee that disaster policies are created in an ethical and transparent manner. Adoption of a lower legal care standard would encourage implementation of less effective approaches and could undermine the impetus to constantly improve the care of disaster victims. Once lowering the legal standard of care becomes accepted practice, it becomes unclear what will prevent this process from moving downward indefinitely. The most rational approach buttressed by evidence to date supports maintaining the current legal standard of care defined by the actions of reasonably prudent physicians under the same or similar circumstances.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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