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Comment and Controversy

We need to penalize “experts” who give unsupported testimony

December 2006 · Vol. 18, No. 12
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“Membrane sweeping and GBS: A litigious combination?” by Arnold W. Cohen, MD, and Jay Goldberg, MD, MSCP

I appreciated the article on the medicolegal aspects of membrane stripping. My only disappointment is that you did not identify the plaintiff’s “expert” perinatologist. Too often, as a defense expert, I’ve read testimony from pompous “experts” that was not supported by the literature. It would be helpful if we as physicians had a site where we could identify doctors who have given unsupported testimony. If they are in our practice area, we could certainly limit referrals to such unscrupulous physicians.

Until we clean up our own house, so to speak, we can hardly make strides in combating a medicolegal system weighted against the doctor. Remember, a suit cannot be filed without expert testimony.

Thomas J. Meyer, MD
Barrington, Ill

Drs. Cohen and Goldberg respond: Reluctance to “name names” is part of the problem

We appreciate Dr. Meyer’s letter about our article on the litigious consequences of membrane sweeping. His concerns are absolutely in sync with ours.

One author (Cohen) has, on several occasions, approached the editors of this and other journals to identify the experts for both the defense and plaintiff, but the lawyers for the publications have not approved. All of the cases in question are closed, and the documents are held in the public record. We do not understand the reluctance to publish the names.

As you know, the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) will not divulge the names of Fellows who have been sanctioned or who have withdrawn from the college after the Grievance Committee has found against them. In the case discussed in OBG Management, the plaintiff’s expert opinion was submitted to the ACOG Grievance Committee for review. The plaintiff’s expert then withdrew his membership from ACOG. As a result, the Grievance Committee could no longer consider the case because the expert was no longer a Fellow of the college.

The reluctance to “name names” of Fellows who provide expert testimony that is “personal opinion” and not consistent with evidence-based medicine only promulgates the injustices of the medicolegal tort system under which we function. Until our journals and official organizations are willing to “expose” those of us who provide unethical testimony, we will continue to see the medicolegal problems within the specialty worsen, resulting in fewer practitioners of our specialty and poorer quality of health care for women.

Hopefully, people like Dr. Meyer will keep on asking these difficult questions of our journals and leaders and we will see changes that result in a more equitable and honest system. This will improve access to, and quality of, care for American women.

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