Can a “Curbside Consultation” from a Doctor Result in Medical Malpractice?
Curbside consults—sometimes called "hallway," "elevator," or "sidewalk" consults—are probably as old as medicine. Primary care physicians generally request them at one time or another, if not multiple times a week, as one study found, and specialists are usually willing to oblige. A curbside consultation refers to a consultation where the patient isn't identified; where the specialty physician typically doesn't review the chart, doesn't meet with the patient, doesn't talk to the patient, and doesn't examine the patient; where the specialty physician doesn't have any direct or contractual agreement with the treating physician or the hospital where the treating physician is working; where the specialist physician doesn't bill for his services; and where the treating physician is free to accept or reject the specialty physician's advice.
Doctors who strictly adhere to this definition face no legal risks, Dr Wilson says. But problems can arise when doctors stray from this definition. A specialist may offer specific advice about a specific patient, based on the incomplete information conveyed by the treating physician. Or the treating doctor may follow that advice, knowing that it was based on incomplete information. Both doctors may consider this a liability-free informal consultation, but if the patient has a bad outcome and decides to sue all of the doctors involved, a court might decide otherwise.
Many doctors who have been accused of these have argued that making doctors liable for curbside consultations would harm patients by punishing beneficial interaction among health professionals. Many states do exempt third-party doctors from malpractice liability when their colleagues engage them in curbside consultations to informally get opinions. But not all states do. Therefore, as a general rule of thumb for a doctor, if you are giving advice, even casual advice, and even to another healthcare provider, it is essential that you treat it with the same gravity as if you were giving advice to your own patient – because you may be equally as liable.