QUESTION: What is a “curbside consultation” and will providing such expose a physician to liability?
ANSWER: A “curbside consultation” is an informal consultation in which a treating physician or practitioner seeks informal information or advice about patient care or the answer to an academic question from a colleague and the colleague provides it. These consultations are usually based on the treating practitioner’s presentation of the case or posing direct questions. The colleague doesn’t see the patient or review the chart, nor is he or she paid for the consultation.
Although it would seem the risk for liability would be low as the consulting physician is not technically the treating physician, this varies state by state and usually depends on the extent to which each state considers a consultation to amount to creation of a physician-patient relationship. The majority of states have ruled that consultants, whether informal or formal, are not liable if they do not personally examine the patient. However, there are exceptions, and in some states, courts have found that consultations may amount to “directing the care” of a patient and thus imposed liability on those consultants. Therefore, it is important to review the law and cases within your state to determine if these types of consultations or similar informal consultations expose a physician to potential liability.