You have been served. Well, it is not quite that dramatic. However, as a healthcare professional you may receive a letter in the mail requesting your appearance for testimony for a court case at some point in your career.
The first time this happened to me, I had no idea what to do. I thought it was a mistake. I was not even the physician for my patient until a year after the accident. I called the law firm. They confirmed that I was being asked to discuss the case with the permission of the patient for the insurance case. Then another next shocking statement came from the administrative assistant, “What is your fee?”
“Fee,” I said in my head. But then I replied to her, “I’ll get back to you.”
I hung up the phone confused and nervous. I had never been deposed previously. I turned to a co-worker. She suggested I speak to our institution’s lawyers. The lawyers were helpful and assured me that this was standard practice and I do not need my own lawyer present. Speaking with them calmed me down.
Now I needed to figure out my fee. I started my research. I asked a friend who was a MD/JD. I searched the internet for answers. I also talked to another colleague who done depositions previously. After gathering the evidence, I concluded I had to set my price and stick with it.
Here are some tips:
1) Find out what the average rate is for your specialty.
I suggest you ask around and search the internet. From my research I found out that different specialties get paid different rates. Surgical specialties tend to get paid more than primary care specialties.
2) Figure out your hourly rate.
Yes, charge by the hour. Generally depositions only take an hour, but just in case, you need to cover yourself. Your time is valuable and you should be compensated for it
3) Find out if you can charge for a preparation fee.
You are not going to go to the deposition without reviewing the patient chart. Again, you should be compensated for your time. And if you are not able to charge a preparation fee, then roll it into your general fee.
4) Determine the location
You usually decide where to have the deposition. Each time I have had one, the lawyers and court reporter came to my location. If this is not possible, then you will receive compensation for travel and parking too.
5) Ask for a statement verifying that your patient wants you to testify.
The first time I was deposed, I was scared I was breaking HIPPA. I insisted on receiving that my patient was okay with me discussing their medical care on their behalf. I asked the lawyer for a documentation ( HIPPA qualified protective order). Make sure you this request is legitimate before your testimony.
6) Prepare for the deposition.
Yes, make sure you read through the EMR so you can be familiar with the case. Both lawyers, the defendant’s and the plaintiff’s, will ask you questions.
7) Answer honestly.
It goes without saying that you should tell the truth. You may be asked questions to challenge the validity of the claim of the defendant and the plaintiff. However, you answer truthfully. And if you do not remember, then simply say “I do not recall.”
The first time was scary for me because I did not know what to expect. However, the lawyers and court reporters I have encountered have been very cordial.
And lastly, you will receive your payment before the deposition or the day of the deposition. Keep in mind that you have to report this taxable income. During tax season you will receive a 1099-Misc from the insurance company that provided you the payment for your deposition.
Now you have the information you need if and when you are asked for a deposition. So if you are deposed, do not panic. Just plan.
Alana Biggers, MD, MPH, FACP, is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is also co-author of The Chronicles of Women in White Coats.