I have been asked to address a question that seems to crop up frequently–should I charge attorneys for my time as an expert in court when I’m the treating clinician? There seems to be some difference of opinion about this, so sure, I’ll wade in and provide what will be, for some, an unsatisfying answer. No. And here’s why–you should be compensated by your own program for time preparing for and going to court, whether as part of your per case pay (some places roll that into the rate) or billing your program for that time on a case by case basis. When I’ve asked prosecutors close to me about their response to a treating clinician wanting to bill for their time providing expert testimony, they’ve universally shrugged and essentially said, “I’ll just subpoena them”, which obligates a clinician to appear, regardless of their feelings about being paid. I am a huge proponent of people being compensated fairly for work they do, and this is not a nurses-being-undervalued issue. Physicians who provide care to patients are also expected to show up in court without being paid additionally as experts by the requesting prosecutor’s office. Our jobs include providing testimony for cases that go forward. We sign on for that when we hire into programs (managers: this is something you should be reinforcing to new hires). The National Protocol says it quite concisely: “It should be expected that examiners will be called on to testify in court as either fact and/or expert witnesses, even though in some cases, a plea bargain may be agreed upon, or the prosecuting attorney may decide not to try the case. Examiners should always conduct and document each examination knowing that legal testimony may ultimately be required.” Clinical programs should compensate clinicians for all aspects of the patient encounter, which in some cases includes courtroom testimony. And it’s a benefit to patients that you are an expert, and may be recognized as such by the courts. For those who don’t feel they are being fairly compensated for court appearances, that’s a negotiation with your organization, not the prosecutor’s office.
Now, should we be compensated by attorneys for cases in which we were not the treatment provider? Absolutely. And everyone should have a fee schedule they can provide should the opportunity to perform this type of expert consultation and testimony arise.
Some of you will undoubtedly disagree with me, and that’s cool–I’m happy to debate the merits of my opinion via email or in the comments. For those of you who have developed creative solutions for addressing this issue, by all means, I’d love to hear about it. Knowing how often I am asked about this issue, I am certain I wouldn’t be the only one.