As a legal professional, obtaining copies of your client's medical records can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. However, once you have the records, it's essential to use them efficiently by sharing them with medical experts or expert witnesses. Doing so requires a thorough understanding of the issues involved, including how to organize client records, share copies securely, protect PHI, and maintain attorney/client-privileged communication.
In this blog post, we'll provide a comprehensive guide on how to share medical records effectively and securely with expert witnesses. By following our tips, you can avoid delays and frustrations and maximize the value of the medical evidence in your case.
Organizing Client Records
Capturing medical records from a set of providers is problematic. One of the issues you will no doubt run into is that every different provider maintains a unique medical record number (MRN) or unique patient ID (UID) that will differ from provider to provider. This can be confusing and may cause the unwitting recipient to put the wrong records with the wrong client. You will need a system where all of a specific patient’s records are identified with a single “super-ID” or one that transcends the other numbers attributed to this patient. It’s best if this number is automatically attached to each record at the time it is received – preferably electronically to ensure these are not misplaced. Misplacing records can impact your case as well as result in a HIPAA violation.
Share Copies of Records
In order to share records with a medical expert or expert witness, you will need to make copies of these records available to him or her. Copying and mailing documents or CDs is an expensive and time-consuming and unnecessary step that you can avoid. Better if you can provide “access” to the entire set of documents via the internet. You will need to ensure that the sharing is secure and confidential and you should also maintain an inventory of what records have been shared and when.
Sharing text documents is usually straightforward. However, sharing of radiological scans (x-rays, MRIs, ultrasounds, etc) may require the recipient to have their own medical image viewer. This often means they will have to download these records, which may introduce additional delays, security issues, or incompatibility. You might want to consider a document sharing function that is both secure and complete with the viewers that are required, avoiding the issues associated with downloading another copy of confidential information.
If you don’t “share” these records via a secure internet connection, your physical sharing of these confidential records needs to be done securely. Using normal email is usually not sufficient for this purpose, both due to the lack of security as well as the size of some of these files that may exceed your email’s capabilities. Using services such as DropBox may also compromise the security of this transmission.
Attorney/Client privileged communication
When you share medical records, you likely will be providing instructions to the medical expert or expert witness with the issues you would like them to specifically consider. When they complete their review, they will need to provide you with their analysis or conclusions. Both directions of communication are obviously confidential. Perhaps more important is maintaining a complete record of what was communicated and the responses received. A good legal document management and sharing system will have this communication integrated with the documents shared, maintaining a single consolidated and complete system for all of the medical evidence to be used in this case.
On its face, using medical records in your case sounds like a straightforward process. However, understanding how to organize, secure, share, and respond to these records can make all the difference as you pursue your clients’ cases.
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