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Can I Become An Expert Physician Witness?

expert witness

Becoming an expert physician witness is a lot more complicated than what your usual Law & Order episode makes it look like. It is a neat side gig if you have the time. But it isn’t just about getting your facts right, where your opinion might turn the tide in an otherwise cold case.

Instead, becoming an expert physician witness is less exciting. For one thing, most of the cases revolve around nothing more controversial than medical liability issues.

And you can’t be subjective at all when it comes to expert witness statements, lest it be deemed that you’re purposefully skewing results. But the pay is great and you choose the hours, so there’s that.

It’s still a relatively unknown field with a lot of misconceptions going around. But if you have gotten a cold call recently to assist in a case with no idea of how to actually do so, look no further.

Here are all the ins and outs of becoming an expert physical witness and what to expect:

  • What it means to be an expert physician witness
  • The hours and pay scale expected
  • The qualifications required

Read more:

What Is An Expert Physician Witness?

Say you get a call from the DAO about wanting your time to consult on a case as an expert physician witness. How do you respond to that when you don’t know what that is?

Well, it’s right there in the name. An expert physician witness is a physician holding expertise in their particular field that can be used as a witness in malpractice cases.

And let’s be honest here: medical malpractice cases are everywhere.

They can range from individual cases of negligence to class action lawsuits in the consumer court against a big corporation. Think of faulty medical devices or even medication with undisclosed side effects. There are a ton of ways these things can go. However, all parties involved require an impartial opinion.

That’s where you and I, possible expert physician witnesses, come in. It is our job to go through the details of the case, with relevant information being reviewed from a medical perspective.

This includes statistics, medical records, previous cases with similar facts, and more. After all of that is done, we give our opinion on the matter to the lawyer directly or write out statements that could be read in court using layman’s terms that people with no medical background can understand.

Of course, all of this means that an expert physician witness cannot be biased at any point.

There is no ‘personal’ opinion here. You have a responsibility to deliver the facts straight and prepare a testimony that doesn’t sound like it’s there to sway the jury to a particular side.

How Much Time And Energy Does It Take?

Being an expert physician witness is not like doing jury duty with extra steps. For one thing, you don’t get paid to do jury duty and secondly, you don’t have to spend actual time going to the court here.

It’s actually pretty rare for medical liability cases to even go to trial. More than 95% of all cases get settled outside of court, which means you can provide your services remotely as well.

As for how time-consuming the job can be, that depends. If there is a short deadline, you could pull an all-nighter, and 6-8 hours reviewing the material should suffice.

But it gets longer the more involved you have to be, with cases that end up going to trial taking at least 22 hours of work time devoted to research and compiling what you know.

Speaking of deadlines, that’s also something that factors into the total time you would need to work. The lawyer would usually inform you beforehand about the timeframe, so it’s essential to know your limits when it comes to committing.

As appealing as extra income sounds, it would amount to nothing if you keep taking up cases for which you can’t meet the deadlines. That just builds a bad rep, meaning you won’t be as recommended for cases going forward.

GP Or Sub-Specialties: What Gets More Gigs?

Technically, the only requirement needed to become an expert physician witness is a medical license. But of course, there are not many cases where general physicians are required to give said expertise.

Usually, most medical liability cases prefer to go the specialization route because they would hold more expertise in the specific field that involves the case. So, if it’s a case involving surgery, the lawyers would prefer to bring on a surgeon as the expert physician witness.

Similarly, cases around baby care would benefit from a gynecologist/obstetrician/pediatrician on board. The key is knowing your stuff so you can give a professional take that is sound and easy to understand but comes from a place of expertise.

That doesn’t mean doctors with no sub-specialties can’t get any cases. There are plenty of hospital-based lawsuits where patient flow management can come in handy, which is usually where a GP might have more relevant information.

How much work you put into the research for the case and, the quality of your reports, also help because that puts you up as a reliable person to turn to for an expert physician witness.

Really, it is your reputation as a care provider that matters, so your case flow will be dependent on that. Your knowledge and adept skills are what will get you recommended by people going forward. The more you’re known for tackling these cases, the more people will turn to you. It’s that simple.

What Do The Hours And Pay Look Like?

Before you say yes to the legal mess, it’s important to iron out a few kinks so it isn’t a mess in the first place. When you’re going into your first experience as an expert physician witness, you need to know what you’re agreeing to.

That means setting up your pay scale, how many hours you’ll be putting in, and what fees to schedule if you travel for work. 

Let’s discuss the pay scale first because you need to make it worth your time. Figures range anywhere from $300 to a whopping $800 per hour. But it’s simpler to start at the lower end, with $400 per hour, and then raise it in increments for any extra time or requests by the party that hired you.

This includes research resources and travel fees as well. And it’s best to ask for advance payment for the first few hours rather than go in blind.

And discuss your hours! Time really is money, and while it is nice to show you’re devoted to your job, it doesn’t mean taking overtime when it isn’t feasible. Make your timings clear-cut and transparent so there is no confusion when it comes to how much space you are given to research and meet deadlines.

This sounds like a no-brainer but you’d be surprised how many people skip this step.

If all goes well, you’re looking at a nice payout from taking on a single case per month. Just 5 hours of your time with a $400/hr pay rate could make you $2000. This isn’t exactly chum change, and you could earn it remotely from the comfort of your own office or home.

Sort Out Your Legalities Before Taking On Their Legalities

You know what’s a great way of getting all the above sorted out? A legally binding contract. If you plan on taking expert physician witness gigs on the side, it’s never a bad idea to call up your lawyer and build the format for the possible contracts you might receive from lawyers who want to hire you.

It also helps to ensure you have your legalities in check before getting hired. Make sure that your license is updated to prove that you are currently working in your field, as that is one of the main requirements.

It also helps to have a record of your work to show that you have been active in the field you will be providing your services for, as the minimum requirement is two years.

Your contract should also include availability and timings, as courts and trials tend to be unpredictable, and you might not make it every time you’re needed.

For that, the contract should explain what to do in case of your absence due to prior commitments or, you know, your primary job.

When reading, the contract should outline what your responsibilities are towards the case and what your employer’s responsibilities are towards you. It will make sure that everything is out in the open with no hidden clauses or issues down the line, such as unpaid dues.

This means that you are contractually obligated to do exactly what the paperwork says, no more, no less.

Final Thoughts

Becoming an expert physician witness is a very real commitment, even if you’re doing it as a second job. This means it needs to be treated with as much legitimacy and tact as any other job you might take on.

And so, there are plenty of other resources out there that can further streamline whether it is the job for you. Because let’s be honest, this isn’t something everyone can do.

But if you’re in the market to try something new and make some extra cash, this might just be the thing you need. An expert physician witness requires a lot of research and prep, and if that’s your thing? Give it a go and see where the road leads!

 

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