Being Called to Court as a Solo Practitioner

April 6, 2016
Melissa Young, MD

What happens when you are subpoenaed as a witness when you are a solo practice? A lost day is tough to swallow.

What does a private practitioner do if he is called to appear in court? A colleague of mine was recently subpoenaed as a witness in a malpractice suit. This meant that he had to have his entire schedule canceled and needed to find coverage at the hospital. In a busy practice, moving a full day of patients to another day can be darn near impossible.

To make matters worse, the court date was postponed indefinitely with less than 24 hours' notice. So he was left with a non-productive, non-income generating day for nothing. Oh sure, he can catch up on paperwork and phone calls and such, but when a physician doesn't see patients, there is no revenue. Not to mention that future court date still looms.

Even worse, while most expert witnesses are compensated for their time, this particular physician was not offered some sort of compensation. This is puzzling for sure.

It's one thing if you are a hospitalist or primarily see inpatients. If that's the case, you just need to adjust the call schedule. Yes, it's still a hassle, but there is no lost income as the schedule works its way out over time. But for a private practitioner, especially one in solo practice? A day of cancellations is a big deal.

And although it would be just a big hassle, it would be somewhat more understandable if he were being called as a material witness. To call him voluntarily as an expert witness with absolutely no preparation makes no sense to me.

So what is one to do? Do you send an invoice? Can you refuse to go? Or do you lose a day's revenue and suck it up?