Role of Common Law in Healthcare in The US Discussion

Week 3 DiscussionAttachment

Please respond to the following:

  • Interpret the role common law plays in healthcare in the United States. Assess the level at which common law has impacted overall decisions related to healthcare policy. Provide two specific examples to support your rationale


Common law, also known as case law or judge-made law, plays a significant role in shaping healthcare policies and decisions in the United States. Common law refers to legal principles and precedents established by judicial decisions, rather than statutes or regulations enacted by legislative bodies. In the realm of healthcare, common law influences various aspects of the healthcare system, including patient rights, medical malpractice liability, and the regulation of healthcare providers.

One of the key ways in which common law impacts healthcare policy is through the development of legal doctrines that define the rights and responsibilities of patients and healthcare providers. For example, the doctrine of informed consent, which requires healthcare providers to inform patients of the risks, benefits, and alternatives to medical treatment before obtaining their consent, has its roots in common law principles. Over time, judicial decisions have clarified and expanded upon the requirements for obtaining valid informed consent, shaping healthcare policies and practices aimed at protecting patient autonomy and promoting transparency in medical decision-making.

Additionally, common law has a significant impact on medical malpractice liability and the regulation of healthcare providers. Courts rely on common law principles to determine whether healthcare providers have met the standard of care owed to their patients and whether they are liable for injuries caused by negligence or medical errors. Judicial decisions in medical malpractice cases influence healthcare policy by establishing legal standards for patient safety, quality of care, and professional accountability. For example, landmark cases involving medical negligence have led to reforms in medical practice guidelines, accreditation standards, and professional licensure requirements to improve patient outcomes and reduce the incidence of preventable harm.

In summary, common law plays a crucial role in shaping healthcare policies and decisions in the United States by establishing legal principles, defining rights and responsibilities, and influencing standards of care in the healthcare system. Through judicial decisions and legal precedents, common law impacts various aspects of healthcare policy, including patient rights, medical malpractice liability, and professional regulation. As healthcare continues to evolve, the interplay between common law and statutory law will continue to shape the legal landscape of healthcare delivery and regulation.

Two specific examples of the impact of common law on healthcare policy:

  1. Roe v. Wade (1973): This landmark Supreme Court case established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision in Roe v. Wade has had a profound impact on healthcare policy related to reproductive rights, shaping laws and regulations governing access to abortion services, informed consent requirements, and state-level restrictions on abortion procedures.
  2. Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California (1976): In this case, the California Supreme Court ruled that mental health professionals have a duty to warn potential victims of threats made by their patients. The Tarasoff decision has influenced healthcare policy and practice by establishing legal standards for assessing and managing risks of violence in psychiatric treatment settings, leading to the development of protocols and guidelines for risk assessment, threat management, and patient confidentiality in mental health care.
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