Potential medical malpractice clients ask us many important questions. Here are two of them: Do I have a case? How much will it cost to get my medical records?
The first is not as easy to answer and the latter is thankfully getting much easier to answer. Let us start with the not so easy one.
Do I have a case?
We hear this question so often and, yet, it is such a hard question to answer – at least at first.
By the time of trial, we have worked to make cases clear, simple, and – hopefully – obviously meritorious. But when we first hear from potential clients, that is rarely true.
To answer the question of whether someone has a case, we do several things. One of the first and most important things we do is request and review the patient’s medical records. We usually learn many facts that patients may not even know, things like:
- how many different medications they received and how much of them,
- the identities of people involved in their care, which usually numbers much higher than patients knew or expected,
- what patients supposedly said to their doctors and nurses, and
- vice versa, that is, what doctors and nurses supposedly said to their patients.
In addition to what the records say in black and white, we may also get a sense about what is going on between the lines. For instance, a doctor may use language that suggests that he really likes a patient (or not so much). Records can show whether a particular problem was within the range of something expected (or that it was very unexpected). It may be clear that a nurse was overburdened with too many patients. It may appear that doctors or nurses are frustrated with one another.
As important as the records are to reviewing a potential case, we almost always will find mistakes in the records or things entirely left out, for instance, a non-smoker documented as a smoker, a woman with a lump on her left breast documented as being on her right, or an important medication allergy that is missing.
These things make a big difference when we assess whether someone has a case.
Once we explain the importance of the medical records, we usually hear a second, related question.
How much will it cost to get my records?
This is a very common question and a very good one. Most people who call on us are in difficult financial situations because of the medical care that has led them to us in the first place. Until the last few years, the cost of getting medical records was quite high, sometimes even cost prohibitive. With long hospitalizations, we would often see bills in the thousands of dollars. That was when we received the records on paper.
Now, in large part thanks to some new federal law, patients can request and receive their records electronically. Using this federal law, patients can receive their records on CDs or jump/USB drives, by email, and by other electronic means. The cost for receiving records this way is substantially less. Instead of 25 to 50 cents a page, a CD of records commonly costs $6.50, no matter how many pages of records are on the CD. This welcome change helps us do our job better and gives better access to justice for more people.
This just scratches the surface of the many questions people can have for us. If you have questions about a potential Virginia medical malpractice case, feel free to reach out.