When complicated medical-related legal issues arise, physicians are often asked to provide expert opinions. Primary care doctors as well as specialists are valued in these situations. Physicians who have worked in a consultative capacity in the medical legal field are good resources for insight about how to look for opportunities, the anticipated time commitment and reimbursement, how the process works and whether medical legal work is stressful for physicians.
Timothy Wiebe, MD, a neurosurgeon in Bakersfield, Calif., was not looking for medical legal work when he was first asked to provide his expert opinion about a patient. Subsequently, parties familiar with his work contacted him with additional requests for consultations.
Wiebe suggests that doctors who are interested in medical legal consulting maintain board certification, attend continuing medical education (CME) courses, and participate in meetings and presentations to highlight their professional abilities to the community. In addition to being qualified, the way a physician expert manages time and availability is an important aspect of getting and keeping clients. “Your candidacy as an expert might be more attractive if you are flexible in a way that helps clients meet their deadlines,” Wiebe suggests.
Nancy Hammond, MD, a neurologist in Kansas City, Mo., also did not seek out medical legal work initially, but says that she received a cold call when an expert was needed for a case. She suggests that one way to get started as an expert witness is to reach out to contacts. “Specifically, reach out to anyone you know in the medical or legal field doing this type of work. You could consider taking a course on being an expert witness, such as the Skills, Education, Achievement, Knowledge (SEAK) course. There are also several online directories in which you can list, “ Hammond says.
Sharon Peach, MD, a critical care specialist in Missoula, Mont., started in expert witness work by attending a conference to learn about expert witness practice. She had her name listed in a directory, but her first case was obtained through networking, not through the directory.
Jordan Grumet, MD, an internist in Evanston, Ill., says that companies such as American Medical Forensic Specialists (AMFS) hire physicians to do medical expert work and connect lawyers with qualified physicians. “Often, a physician is contacted out of the blue by a lawyer who is looking for help with a case. If the physician does a good job, the lawyer passes on their name to other law firms,” Grumet says. He began by emailing lawyers in the Chicago area to see if they needed experts, while also signing up for AMFS.
What a physician medical expert does
Hammond explains that the bulk of medical legal consultation consists of examining medical recordsand writing a well-annotated report specific to the case, with the possibility that a physician may be asked to give a deposition and testify at trial. A core part of the work involves understanding the medical benchmarks and identifying deviations from the norms. “Generally, you are looking to see if the standard of care was breached and then testifying at either depositions or trials,” Grumet says.