In order to determine whether a viable medical malpractice case exists, a consulting medical expert must be retained to review the medical records involved in the patient's care. Consulting medical experts are different than testifying experts in that they will review the case, provide an opinion as to whether malpractice may be proven, but they will not testify.
In , the identity of consulting medical experts is generally not discoverable by the defense. Thus, some local physicians are willing to anonymously review medical charts to determine if malpractice was committed. However, just because a local physician is willing to review charts without the medical community knowing this fact, does not ensure that a local physician will be completely objective in the review.
If the local physician knows the doctor involved or is his friend, he may not be as likely to give a completely unbiased opinion on the chart review. Thus, it is always advisable to have an out of town physician review the case at some point before the case is accepted.
Some attorneys like to use nurses to screen the cases for merit. However, this attorney prefers to use physicians, particularly physicians in the same specialty as the physician who is alleged to have committed malpractice, to screen his cases. This approach provides a more thorough and accurate understanding of the issues in the case.
This is why it is important to retain an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who has resources to have the case properly screened for merit. Since the standard of medical care is not written in some book, it is important to use physicians who practice in the same specialty as the defendant doctor to analyze the medical/legal issues in the case.
Consulting experts are not cheap. Most charge by the hour for their review time. Some attorneys will not retain consulting physicians and will simply submit the case to the medical review panel for their opinion. However, since approximately 97% of the medical review panels are won by the physicians, it is hard to tell whether the case truly lacked merit. Moreover, the consulting expert can help the attorney prepare the submission of evidence to the medical review panel so that important and sometimes subtle medical issues are not overlooked.
The consulting medical expert can also assist the attorney in preparing for the deposition of the defendant doctor. Again, thorough preparation can help determine all of the issues in the case at an earlier stage. It is always better for the patient and their families to know as early as possible if the case cannot be proven in a court of law. Consulting medical experts often provide the much needed closure and medical explanation that the family never got in the first place which prompted their suspicion.
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