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LNCtips.com: Medicine-Law Differences


As a new legal nurse consultant, you probably learned in your LNC school about the legal process and how legal nurse consulting fits into that process. You know that the fields of Medicine (including Nursing) and medical malpractice Law are different. But how different are they? Let's take a look.

In Medicine, patients enter the system at birth, leave at death and interact with healthcare providers periodically in between. Some individuals never interact with Law, but those that do enter into a structured system that starts when the case is screened and either ends there or when the case closes. As a legal nurse consultant, you'll work with attorneys on specific cases.  You may or may not work directly with either of the parties (plaintiff and defendant) involved in the case.

Medicine is collegial, Law is adversarial. In Medicine, everyone is expected to work together to achieve the common goal of getting the best outcomes for the patient. Law pits two sides (the plaintiff and the defense) against each other. That's why cases are titled Plaintiff Name v. Defendant Name. One side wins and one side loses. As a legal nurse consultant, you'll work with the attorney to achieve the best outcome for your client, whether that's the plaintiff or the defendant.

Communication in Medicine involves the whole health care team. The health care team may include dozens of people if the patient is hospitalized.  Information about the patient is communicated both in writing and verbally. Communication is expected to be frequent and detailed. Law has teams too, but they might be very small, consisting of an attorney and a secretary. Some attorneys work with a partner, associate, paralegals, legal nurse consultants and other support staff, but others do not.  Some firms hold formal meetings about their cases. In others, information is exchanged on the fly. As a legal nurse consultant, you'll need to identify what type of communication (verbal or written) the attorney wants, how often the communication should occur, and how detailed it should be. You may need to take the initiative when communicating with attorneys.

Medicine is contemporaneous while Law is retrospective. Medicine treats the patient as events unfold. While there's a small focus on the past (past medical history), Medicine treats patients as their problems occur, determining diagnoses based on the patient's signs, symptoms and test results. On the other hand, Law has a retrospective approach. Attorneys know the patient's outcomes in advance and then hire others to review the patient's care and treatment to determine if the correct diagnoses were made in a timely fashion. As a legal nurse consultant, you'll have the benefit of knowing the patient''s outcome but also must review the medical records with a contemporaneous perspective.

Medicine is involved with real and tangible dramatic events, such as the birth of infants, life-saving surgery and patient deaths. Law has drama too but it's used to affect a witness or jury. Depositions and trials are carefully staged by both sides in an attempt to influence witnesses or sway the opinions of the jury. Answers to deposition or trial questions by expert witnesses and the parties in the suit aren't scripted or coached. However, the parties and expert witnesses dress, act, and react based on their attorney's recommendations. As a legal nurse consultant, you can help prepare witnesses and experts by explaining the dramatic aspects of this part of the legal process.

Knowing how Medicine and Law differ from each other can help you understand how attorneys function. It can also help you bridge the gap between the two.

Want to learn more about LNC skills for legal nurse consultants?  Check out the Archives.

...Katy Jones