Magazine article Medical Economics

Can You Be Liable for Informal Phone Advice?

Magazine article Medical Economics

Can You Be Liable for Informal Phone Advice?

Article excerpt

Q When a colleague called me at home to ask for advice about a patient, I gave it. I never saw the patient or heard anything more about her until she named me as a defendant in a malpractice suit. Can I be sued just for answering a colleague 's question?

A The sad truth is that you can't stop someone from initiating a lawsuit, no matter how remote your connection to the case. If you're served with papers, you'll have to contact your insurance carrier and help with your defense. However, depending on where you practice, your attorney might be able to persuade a judge to dismiss you from the suit before it gets to trial.

The key legal question in the scenario you describe is whether a physician-patient relationship exists. If it doesn't, you don't owe the patient any duty of care, and you can't be successfully sued even if the advice you gave was wrong.

In a recent Illinois case, a toddler was taken to a hospital emergency department after he was injured in a fall. The patient had a fever and breathing problems. X-rays appeared normal. The child gradually became limp. A pediatrician phoned a neurologist for advice. At the neurologist's direction, the pediatrician checked the child's neck and found that it was stiff. The neurologist suggested a spinal tap to rule out meningitis and encephalitis. The pediatrician didn't ask the neurologist to treat the child, and the patient's family wasn't billed for his services.

The pediatrician diagnosed an infectious disease, and the patient was transferred to another hospital, where it was determined that he'd suffered a spinalcord injury. …

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