It seems like everybody is a specialist these days. The day of the family doctor who handled everything from ear infections to setting broken bones is long gone. Instead, your primary care physician probably helps you manage any ongoing problems and minor illnesses but turns over anything complicated to a medical specialist of some sort. What happens when the doctor that you know and trust refers you to another doctor who doesn't turn out to be much of an expert? If your medical care at the hands of a specialist has caused an injury, this is what you should know about negligent referrals and medical malpractice lawsuits.
Your primary care physician's role.
Most people don't know when they need to see a specialist instead of relying on their primary care physician for help. In fact, many can't see a specialist unless they go through their primary care doctor first -- many insurance companies and specialists require the primary care physician to act as a sort of gatekeeper to the world of medical specialists. That means that you have to rely on your primary care doctor to send you to a specialist that is capable of handling your condition.
Your primary care physician's liability.
When you go to a specialist, you expect a high degree of care. Sometimes, no matter how much care you get, something goes wrong or you don't get well. At other times, however, specialists fail to exercise a reasonable amount of care and do something negligent, like fail to perform surgery in time to prevent a condition from getting worse. Or, they misdiagnose something because they aren't taking everything you've told them into consideration and you endure months of treatment for the wrong condition while your actual condition goes untreated and causes you lasting harm.
At that point, you may end up seeing an attorney about filing a medical malpractice case against the specialist. You may also have good reason to file a claim against the doctor who referred you to the specialist. A primary care physician isn't responsible every time a specialist gives a patient substandard treatment -- only when he or she failed to exercise a certain duty of care when making the referral.
There are a number of ways that the primary care physician can fail his or her duty of care toward you when referring you on to a specialist:
referring you to a doctor that isn't properly qualified or licensed in the state
sending you to a doctor that has a history of disciplinary actions by the medical board
recommending a doctor that has a known substance abuse problem
referring you to a practice that takes months to get into when your condition is critical
not following up with the specialist to make sure that the proper testing has been done
pushing a lesser-qualified specialist over a more-qualified one, simply because the lesser-qualified specialist and the primary care physician are in a shared practice
recommending a specialist because he or she gets a referral fee, rather than making the referral based on what is best for you
Your primary care physician should also make sure that you're satisfied with the care that you're receiving at the hands of the specialist. If you told your primary care physician that you didn't think that the specialist was right for you or that he or she isn't doing enough, you should have been given a referral to a new specialist for a second opinion.
If you end up injured at the hands of a medical specialist after you were referred there by another doctor, talk to a personal injury attorney about the possibility of filing a suit against not only the specialist but the doctor that referred you.