News: Should medical specialty societies scrutinize expert witness testimony?

August 1, 2008

Some physicians believe that peer review of expert witness testimony is essestial to keep the judicial system fair.

Some physicians believe that peer review of expert witness testimony is essential to keep the judicial system fair. Others believe that such programs are aimed at deterring doctors from testifying for plaintiffs and stopping valid claims. A recent Minnesota trial court ruling appeared to support the first view, according to an account in American Medical News (4/21/08) of an ophthalmologist's suit against two other opthalmologists, all members of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), as well as the academy itself.

A Hennepin County District Court judge tossed out claims that the AAO defamed Charles Yancy, MD, an AAO member, when the society's ethics committee examined Dr. Yancy's statements as a plaintiff expert in a medical liability case. The investigation followed a complaint made by the two other academy members, who accused Dr. Yancy of giving misleading testimony. The court said that as an AAO member, Dr. Yancy agreed to abide by the academy's ethical rules and regulations, which include a peer review system for questionable medical testimony. Though the judge dismissed Dr. Yancy's claims that the AAO and the two other academy members had conspired to intimidate him from testifying in future cases, it did allow Dr. Yancey to sue the two doctors individually for allegedly besmirching his reputation when they filed their grievance with the AAO.

According to American Medical Association policy, giving expert witness testimony is a form of medical practice and should be peer reviewed. AAO General Counsel Katherine Salazar-Poss said decisions like the one in Minnesota (other courts also have addressed this issue) affirm medical specialty societies' ability to enforce the ethical rules to which members consent and make sure doctors follow the same standards in front of a jury as they do with a patient.