Doctors and lawyers often mix like oil and water. It is no secret many doctors view lawyers with skepticisms at best and contempt at worse. Much of this animosity is because lawyers expose a doctor's malpractice when he or she seriously harms or kills a patient.
While this underlying tension has always existed, in the past, it was common for an injured patient's treating physician to, begrudgingly, cooperate with the patient's lawyers. The physician would view this cooperation as a necessary byproduct of treating his patient's injuries. It was in the patient's best interest to cooperate with that patient's lawyer, and so the doctor would do what he could to help his patient.
This guarded cooperation has turned into open antipathy. A prime reason for this change is doctors have many more demands on their time. They spend their days and energy wrangling over insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. On top of that, the forced transition to electronic medical documentation dramatically increased the time spent at the computer. At a recent seminar I chaired, attending physicians lamented, because of these very issues, their ability to see patients decreased anywhere from 25% – 40%!
Finally, a 2013 case, Sanchez v. Gama allows an insurance company's lawyers to force a doctor to give a deposition without being properly reimbursed for the time spent away from his or her practice. Understandably, doctors are frustrated about taking up to four hours of their day away from patients without being reimbursed for this lost income.
As a result, doctors are even more unwilling to cooperate with a patient's lawyers. Now, it is rare for a patient's doctors to agree to speak with an injured person's lawyer. They simply will not do it, and when forced to give a deposition by the insurance company, they are often openly hostile.
The problem is the injured person almost always requires a doctor to explain to the jury the patient's injuries, the link between these injuries and the accident (or medical malpractice), the medical care necessary to treat these injuries, the future care needed, and the injured patient's prognosis. All this must be established with qualified medical testimony.
To address this quandary, we hire our own qualified physicians to explain these issues to the jury. For example, if the patient has a back or neck injury, we hire a neurosurgeon. If they have an arm injury, we hire an orthopedist. Then, this qualified physician reviews the patient's medical records and examines the patient. With this information, this friendly physician steps into the shoes of the treating physician and explains the patient's injuries, care, and prognosis.
Importantly, we take great care to work with doctors who will be very credible to a jury, and to the opposing insurance company. It does our client no good if we retain some gun for hire who will say whatever he thinks we want to hear. Rather, juries sense when a witness does not have the conviction of his words. Establishing credibility in all steps of the representation, including by carefully selecting qualified and conservative physicians, is the bedrock of how we successfully represent our injured clients.
As a practical matter, this allows the patient to obtain the care he or she needs without worrying whether their doctor will cooperate with their lawyers. This allows the patient to see doctors that otherwise would not see the patient if they know they will be dragged into litigation. Finally, it focuses the patient/doctor relationship strictly on treatment, and frees the patient of any need to discuss legal issue (which is always a bad idea) with their doctor.