Medical expert witnesses in all medical disciplines including medical toxicology and pharmacology are essential to establishing whether or not the standard of care was met in any particular medical legal case. The standard of care holds the medical professional to that specific behavior that would be expected of a reasonable person possessing the same or similiar skills or knowledge under similar circumstances. In medical malpractice cases, the physician's actions must be measured against those expected of other similar physicians. This often means that similar physicians are those in the same medical specialty. There are exceptions to this caveat because physicians in different specialties can care for the same type of patients or perform the same type of procedures. An example of this would be Orthopedic spine surgeons and Neurosurgeons who both operate on the spine.
Does this mean that there is only one standard of care in a given medical situation? No. There are often more than one appropriate standard of care for a given situation. Further, there may be standards of care that are less frequently employed, but that are perfectly appropriate. In fact, the defendant physician may not be held to a single or even a majority standard of care if it can be shown that the physician behaved in accordance with good medical practice for the care he delivered. For example, adjuvant chemotherapy for lung cancer is "a relatively new standard of care, but not necessarily the only standard of care, according to an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Some clinicians have chosen not to employ it in certain situations. Of course, informed consent is critical in these situations because patients must be given the choice.
Standard of care issues is one reason why the medical expert is absolutely necessary in a medical malpractice action. The medical expert must sort through the various applicable standards of care and determine what was or was not appropriate for that specific medical situation. And there are myriad subtleties and nuances in this regard. It is not always so black and white. In most medical malpractice cases, both the standard of care and its breach are established through the necessary testimony of medical expert witnesses.