Patient’s Death Lands Clinician in Court for Advising Cessation of Aspirin Therapy

Legal Background

Expert medical witnesses are an essential part of a medical malpractice case – in fact, some states require testimony of an expert medical witness. Experts are called on to testify as to the standard of care owed by the physician to the patient; and how the physician either breached or did not breach that duty by acting or failing to act. In this case, the plaintiff used a medical expert to testify that the standard of care required Dr. L to refer the patient to cardiologist before stopping aspirin therapy.

Often in cases with several medical experts on both sides, it becomes a competition of how good the expert is at making complex medical information understandable to jurors. The jury’s decision may be based (at least in part) on how memorable or comprehensible an expert witness’s testimony was.

Protecting Yourself

Dr. L could have protected herself by referring the patient to a cardiologist for follow up. That would have been the wisest course of action. Her patient had an episode of unexplained severe chest pain requiring emergency medical service. Despite the fact that the tests run at the hospital came back negative, concern had been expressed by the hospitalist, and no explanation or cause for the chest pain had ever been established. Just these facts should have cautioned Dr. L, who was not a heart specialist, that her patient might need to see a cardiologist for further testing and evaluation. The patient was already on aspirin therapy from the hospital and as the plaintiff’s expert pointed out, aspirin is a powerful cardiac stabilizing agent. Dr. L should have referred the patient to a cardiologist, or at the very least consulted a cardiologist herself before telling her patient to stop the aspirin therapy.