The Curbside Consult

Health and Healthcare CategoryA physician frequently gets stopped in the hall of the hospital or gets paged by another doctor for an unofficial consult. In medicine, this is called a “curbside consult.” Essentially, one physician would like some input on a case without getting the consulting physician officially involved in the patient’s care. Typically, this is done because the primary physician either knows the answer already but wants to run it by someone else. Or because he thinks the problem is not major enough to warrant an official consult. If an official consult is requested it will require the consulting physician to see the patient, write a consultation note, as well as dictate a consultation note.

PathwayThe concept of “curbside consult” often moves outside of the hospital and often involves friends and strangers consulting you for your expertise in an “unofficial” manner. Imagine going to a cocktail party and people finding out you are a pediatrician. A “friend’s” child has some odd symptoms and they want to know what you think about it and how you would go about treating it.

Most often a physician will ask who the child’s pediatrician is and recommend that they go see that person for the child’s care. If they are looking for a new pediatrician the doctor will probably tell the parent to call his office for an appointment.

Most often physicians do not like to do curbside consults for strangers or friends because they technically are not the patient’s doctor. There is no physician-patient relationship established. However, by giving a medical opinion, it could potentially be inferred that such a relationship was initiated. Thus, many physicians like to draw a clear line between interactions that denote a physician-patient relationship is intact versus interactions that are not.

I personally have been asked tons of times for medical advice on people who are not my patients. I am always honest and let the person know that if they are concerned they should see their own physician or go to the nearest emergency room. I do this not because of medical liability but also because I do not want to be responsible for any potentially adverse outcomes. These adverse outcomes end up being the “skeletons” in every physician’s closet.


Dr. JC is a medical doctor who has a passion for health promotion and education.
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