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Malpractice: Phoning It In

During the cold and flu season, many doctors are so busy that they diagnose illnesses and give advice to patients over the phone. However, a doctor who gives medical advice without seeing the patient may be liable for malpractice if he or she guesses wrong.

A 60-year-old woman developed a cough and fever. She saw her doctor, who prescribed flu medications but did not take x-rays and did not prescribe any antibiotics. When the patient worsened a few days later, she called her doctor to see what she should do.

Her doctor was not at work when she called, but she spoke with another physician. This second doctor told her over the phone to increase the dosage of cough syrup, but he never saw the patient in person. The patient's condition continued to worsen. Eventually, she was taken to the hospital emergency room and died of pneumonia the next day.

A jury found that the doctor who practiced "medicine by phone" was negligent, and that his negligence caused the death of the patient. After deliberations, the jury awarded the patient's husband and surviving son nearly $1.7 million.

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