Home Letters More on serving as an expert witness

More on serving as an expert witness

November 2010

Published in the November 2010 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

In response to the “Suing hospitalists” commentary in your August issue: I have been an academic hospitalist for 14 years. I review and testify on behalf of both patients and doctors. I charge for my time in medical legal work in the same way I charge for time if I give lectures or teach.

The sad reality is that many hospitalist “peers” practice below acceptable standards of care. As professionals, we are obligated to hold each other accountable to those standards. At the same time, I have staunchly supported hospitalists who have likewise been named in a malpractice suit without merit.

Although it is somewhat unclear from the commentary, it appears that Dr. DeLue felt that the hospitalist in the case mentioned did not breach acceptable standards of care.

Dr. DeLue’s review of the case and report to the plaintiff attorney is a valuable service to patients and doctors alike, so I have no idea why that would be viewed as dishonest work. It is far more dishonest for hospitalists who are incompetent, lazy or both to represent to the public an expertise in hospital-based medicine and to charge for their services if that practice leads to patient injury and death.

Of course, any expert witness who lies or is biased by excessive compensation is dishonest and deserves disdain. But I strongly disagree with the notion that hospitalists should avoid reviewing medicolegal cases or testifying on behalf of patients because it is inherently dishonest. In fact, it is our professional obligation to do so.

Frank Michota, MD
Cleveland, Ohio

Dr. DeLue responds: Dr. Michota’s comments are appreciated and well-considered. I certainly concur that if we find incompetence, we are obligated to act to protect patients.

Yet I remain troubled by a medicolegal system in which the duties of expert testimony and compensation can be so easily co-mingled and confused. I believe the only way to reconcile our professional responsibility to provide testimony while resolving any suspicion about motivation would be to render that expertise without recompense.

That opinion may be unrealistic and naive; we are busy and talented professionals who expect to be paid for our time and efforts. However, those who practice medicine honorably are owed a more fair and impartial system.