No doctor knows all there is to know about the complexities of the human body. That’s why there are specialists who focus on particular parts of the body or treating specific conditions. When a physician such as a primary care or emergency room doctor fails to consult with a specialist or refer a patient to a specialist for proper care, that failure can constitute medical malpractice if the patient suffers adverse health consequences as a result.

When Does a Doctor Need to Get a Specialist Involved?

Doctors need to know their limitations, which also means acknowledging what they don’t know. When a patient presents with a problem that is beyond the doctor’s knowledge or competency, the doctor has an obligation to bring in a specialist whose background, training, and experience can help the patient with their issue.


That is because every doctor owes every patient a duty of care to provide competent treatment. Sometimes, that duty of care involves treatment that the primary doctor can provide. Other times, however, meeting the appropriate standard of care requires that physician to consult with a specialist or refer the patient to one.

The failure to get a specialist involved can have grave consequences. Serious conditions can be left unrecognized or misdiagnosed. This could leave a potentially fatal problem untreated or could result in an ineffective, inappropriate, or even harmful course of treatment.

When Do Failures to Consult Specialists Happen?

The failure to consult a specialist can happen at any time during the course of medical treatment, but two common scenarios which result in a negligent failure to get a specialist’s input are

Primary Care Physicians: Generally, people go to a primary care physician for check-ups and non-emergency health issues. These primary care physicians are usually general practitioners and internal medicine doctors who may have broad, but not necessarily deep, knowledge about the wide range of conditions they see every single day.

The primary care physician may identify a health concern through examination or testing. If the issue is beyond his or her knowledge and skill, the primary care doctor must adhere to the necessary standard of care and either consult with a specialist or refer the patient to a specialist. Many insurance plans, especially HMOs, require that patients see their primary care doctor before seeing a specialist, so the primary care doctor’s responsibility is even more important because the patient often has no other choice.

 Emergency Rooms: When a patient arrives at an emergency room, doctors and staff may need to make split-second decisions under extreme pressure with limited information. They need to figure out what is wrong and how to treat the patient immediately. Some problems are readily apparent, like a broken leg. Often, however, making the correct diagnosis and providing appropriate treatment involves eliminating the most serious possibilities first, which may require a specialist.

For example, if a patient presents to the ER with chest pain, a cardiologist should be consulted to eliminate the possibility of a heart attack or to treat the problem if it turns out to be a cardiac condition. Even in the intense setting of an emergency room, an ER doctor’s failure to consult with a specialist when required by the standard of care can constitute emergency room negligence.

Holding Doctors Accountable

When patients suffer because doctors and other healthcare professionals negligently or intentionally fail to involve a specialist in the patient’s treatment, the medical malpractice attorneys at Sommers Schwartz stand ready to hold them accountable.

Sommers Schwartz helps patients and their families obtain compensation for injuries and losses resulting from all forms of medical negligence. Our seasoned team of attorneys, nurses, and experts will investigate your claim and determine the best course of action to obtain the best possible outcome.

If you or a loved one has been harmed due to medical negligence, please contact Sommers Schwartz today for a free consultation to review your case.

Matthew Curtis

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Matthew Curtis

Matthew Curtis is a senior shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. For the past 30 years, he has successfully litigated complex personal injury and medical malpractice cases throughout Michigan, and across the United States.