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Risk Matters: Curbside Opinions

The term “curbside consultation/opinion” is often used to describe an informal opinion or interpretation between colleagues that does not result in a “formal” consultation.  Curbside consultations are transient in nature and typically occur in the hallway, break room, golf course, etc. often beginning with “Hey, let me run something by you.”  In most cases, the physician who is “consulted” has no intention of becoming involved in the patient’s care, billing for services, or having their identity documented in the record.  They also have no reasonable expectation of becoming involved in a claim or lawsuit due to this informal discussion.  Unfortunately, when the curbside opinion is used to make or confirm treatment decisions, and a claim or lawsuit is subsequently asserted related to those decisions, the identity of the colleague who provided the informal consultation may be revealed because it can often strengthen the defendant physician’s defense.  Consequently, the consulting physician may be deposed and then potentially brought into the lawsuit and exposed to potential liability.

The best advice for physicians who participate in an informal consultation is to establish the following at the outset:

  1. They are not being formally consulted
  2. They do not have all the facts or the benefit of examining the patient
  3. They have not reviewed the records
  4. Their opinion or interpretation is general in nature and does not apply to any specific patient.

They should also confirm that this discussion is “strictly off the record”.  While consistently establishing these parameters as part of the communication won’t guarantee that the consulting physician will never be exposed to potential liability, it does provide them with a basis for a defense later, if needed.

About The Author

Jeffrey A. Woods is the Director of Risk Education in the Risk Education and Evaluation Services Department at SVMIC. Jeff received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee Martin and his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville. Following graduation, he practiced law in Knoxville for almost 15 years, advising physicians and healthcare providers and defending them in malpractice claims. He is licensed to practice in Tennessee and all Federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. He is a member of the Tennessee Bar Association.

Jeff joined SVMIC in 2003 and was a Senior Claims Attorney until 2015 when he transferred to his current position.

The contents of The Sentinel are intended for educational/informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Policyholders are urged to consult with their personal attorney for legal advice, as specific legal requirements may vary from state to state and/or change over time.

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