Generate Revenue by Serving as an Expert in Medical Litigation

OCTOBER 19, 2015
Vicki Rackner, MD

OathWould you like to generate more revenue outside of direct patient care activities? In this series, you will get several suggestions that can help you leverage your skills, wisdom, and experience to generate more income.

 

The fastest, easiest, and most direct path to a higher income is by serving as an expert in medical malpractice lawsuits.

 

I supported my family for a year doing nothing but this.

 

Why do attorneys hire medical experts?

 

Medical malpractice lawsuits are costly undertakings that are difficult to prove and win. 

 

Attorneys on both sides hire physicians to answer questions that help them to decide how to respond to a case brought to them. 

 

Physician experts offer help in two distinct stages.  

 

Stage 1: Preliminary Review

 

Attorneys representing the plaintiff (the patient’s attorney) work on a contingency basis, getting paid a percentage of the plaintiff’s award. To minimize their financial risk, they rely on input from their physician experts to answer the question, “Should I take this case?”

 

Attorneys representing the defense (the physician’s attorney) are hired by the physician’s medical malpractice insurance carrier to minimize the company’s financial losses. They are generally paid on an hourly basis. The defense attorney relies on input from their physician experts to answer the question, “Should I fight this case or settle?”

 

Both sides hire physician experts to perform a preliminary review of the medical record and answer three critical questions:


1. Did the treating physician violate the standard of care of a reasonably prudent physician practicing in that community at the time of the bad outcome?
2. Was the patient was harmed?
3. Was the harm a direct result of the violation of the standard of care?

 

The answer to all three questions must be yes to win the case.  

 

Only a fraction of these cases of alleged medical negligence move beyond this preliminary phase. 

 

Stage 2: The Courtroom

 

If a jury trial is planned, both sides hire physicians to offer expert opinions in deposition and at the trial.

 

Ultimately the case is won or lost depending on the how well the attorney is able to persuade the jury to see things their way.

 

Advantages

 

The three major advantages to generating revenue as a medical expert include:


1. Profitability: You can generate an hourly wage measured in thousands of dollars without disrupting your practice. 
2. Flexibility: You can fit this work into your schedule in the evenings and weekends as your time allows.
3. Improved Clinical Performance: I believe that through the review of about a hundred cases I became a better physician. When you understand how and why care goes off track, you have a better chance of keeping care on track.

 

Disadvantages

 

Serving as a medical expert is not for everyone.

 

If you have been traumatized by medical litigation in the past, you may potentially reopen old emotional wounds.

 

You may need to invest in new skills and tools to perform well in the adversarial climate of a courtroom.  This is a zero-sum game, and winning is everything. I personally invested in a coaching process I describe as “deposition charm school” to conduct myself in the courtroom most effectively.

 

Medical experts no longer enjoy absolute immunity from civil litigation. Expert witnesses may be subject to disciplinary sanctions from professional organizations and state medical boards.

 

Optimize Your Chances of Success

 

Attorneys do not want medical  “hired guns”; they prefer an actively practicing board-certified physicians in good standing who can offer unbiased opinions. 

 

A physician expert witness does not need an academic appointment and/or a string of publications. You offer the greatest value when you can demonstrate a solid record of extensive clinical experience and good clinical outcomes in a specific disease process. 

 

Next Steps
 

1. Decide whether you have the “stomach” for the adversarial legal world. 
2. Decide if you want to work for the plaintiff, the defense, or both. I personally did both. I learned a tremendous amount understanding how and why patients filed lawsuits. Many physicians have an understandable reluctance to testify against their colleagues. 
3. Decide if you will perform preliminary case reviews, offer expert testimony, or both.
4. Consider making an investment to optimize your performance.
5. Make sure that your assets are protected. You are taking on this work to help you build wealth; assure you are not putting your wealth at risk.
6. Engage in smart marketing. Begin by talking with your colleagues who engage in this activity. Ask them for introductions or advice about how to break in.

 

Up Next: Generate Revenue by Offering Consulting Services

 

 

 

 

 


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