What to do when your legal client asks for physician referral
When an injured client comes to you and asks for help in finding the appropriate specialist for their situation, you’re more than willing to provide the name of a doctor or specialist that you know can help them, right? Not so fast. Ethically, it’s a conundrum many legal representatives face, and one that should be thoroughly considered before handing over a doctor’s information to your client.
Why is this even a concern?
Let’s face it: when a lawyer consistently refers clients to certain doctors, it can potentially hurt the client’s case. If there is a pattern of referrals between physician and attorney, it creates an air of suspicion about the relationship between the two, and insurance companies and juries may believe that the doctor is biased, making the case more difficult to settle or making it settle at a lesser value—which is not in your client’s best interest.
So, as an attorney, what is the best way for me to refer my clients to doctors?
- Disclose your relationship up front: While it may sound like it should go without saying, the more information you provide your legal client upfront about his or her case and the reason you are referring them to a particular doctor, the better. Based on the situation, there will be some doctors better suited for the specifics than others, and your knowledge as legal counsel will serve to help your client.
- When you know of a specialist that truly matches your client’s needs: Over time you will certainly come to know doctors that specialize in particular areas and are experts that can genuinely help your client. It is not unethical for you to refer them as long as there is not an unethical relationship between you and the doctor (i.e. kickbacks).
- When your client asks you for a referral: When your client asks for your input, then it is appropriate for you to provide your client with the most appropriate and ethical information you can. In fact, in cases where your client may not be able to afford a doctor visit and treatment, if you know of a doctor that may treat that person or take the case on a lien basis, then it is in your client’s best interest to refer him or her to the doctor. Just be sure to discuss this up front with your client.
Will it hurt my legal client’s case if he or she chooses his or her own doctor?
Yes and no.
The positive in this situation is that, should the case go in front of a jury, the jury will see your client’s choice as being unbiased and the doctor’s opinion more legitimate. Perhaps the settlement in your client’s favor will be of a higher value.
The downfall in this situation, however, is that this can also mean the doctor’s fees are higher, so there is less settlement that ends up in your client’s pocket. When there is a referral relationship between you as an attorney and the referral doctor, fees can be negotiated to benefit your client’s best interest. Yes, a pretty sticky situation at best, however, when the relationship between all parties is focused on the client’s best interests, then there should be no cloud of doubt.
My client is injured and I want to help. What should I do?
When your client needs a referral to a qualified specialist that you believe can help him or her, then certainly provide the referral. Be sure to follow the advice above regarding your client’s best interest. What may be best is for you to provide a few options for your client to choose from. Encourage your client to do the required homework on his or her own and choose for themselves from the options you provide. Ultimately, your client’s best interests must supersede any other incentives in making a referral. It comes down to ethics, and you can better keep yours intact by following these guidelines.
Should you wish to include POM MRI & Imaging Centers on your list of potential client referral sources, our experts will always be ready to assist your clients in treating their health and serving their best interests.
This is for educational purpose only. We are not a law firm.