Opinion 9.07 - Medical Testimony
In various legal and administrative proceedings, medical evidence is critical. As citizens and as professionals with specialized knowledge and experience, physicians have an obligation to assist in the administration of justice.
When a legal claim pertains to a patient the physician has treated, the physician must hold the patient’s medical interests paramount, including the confidentiality of the patient’s health information, unless the physician is authorized or legally compelled to disclose the information.
Physicians who serve as fact witnesses must deliver honest testimony. This requires that they engage in continuous self-examination to ensure that their testimony represents the facts of the case. When treating physicians are called upon to testify in matters that could adversely impact their patients’ medical interests, they should decline to testify unless the patient consents or unless ordered to do so by legally constituted authority. If, as a result of legal proceedings, the patient and the physician are placed in adversarial positions it may be appropriate for a treating physician to transfer the care of the patient to another physician.
When physicians choose to provide expert testimony, they should have recent and substantive experience or knowledge in the area in which they testify, and be committed to evaluating cases objectively and to providing an independent opinion. Their testimony should reflect current scientific thought and standards of care that have gained acceptance among peers in the relevant field. If a medical witness knowingly provides testimony based on a theory not widely accepted in the profession, the witness should characterize the theory as such. Also, testimony pertinent to a standard of care must consider standards that prevailed at the time the event under review occurred.
All physicians must accurately represent their qualifications and must testify honestly. Physician testimony must not be influenced by financial compensation; for example, it is unethical for a physician to accept compensation that is contingent upon the outcome of litigation.
Organized medicine, including state and specialty societies, and medical licensing boards can help maintain high standards for medical witnesses by assessing claims of false or misleading testimony and issuing disciplinary sanctions as appropriate. (II, IV, V, VII)