Alaska Senate Health Committee hears a bill on liability protections for consulting physicians

The Alaska Senate Health and Social Services Committee held its first hearing on SB 65 on Tuesday. This bill would provide immunity for consulting physicians and other health care workers. 



Senator Jesse Kiehl, the sponsor, said the bill is essential for Alaskans because they rely on consultants for specialized care.

“Many Alaska communities do not have specialist medical professionals. Doctors in rural communities rely on the ability to call specialists in urban hubs to seek expertise on specialized medical fields and advice on evaluating urgent situations. These informal, unpaid consults give Alaskans the benefit of specialist knowledge and some costs by preventing unnecessary medical transports to hub communities. This bill will relieve the unpaid consultant’s from medical malpractice liability. It also ensures the primary doctor cannot use the consultant to decrease their own liability so the patient will get full recovery.”

The bill would create liability protections for consulting physicians, osteopaths, podiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), physician assistants, dentists, optometrists and pharmacists. These providers would not be liable for providing a consultation, if they meet a list of requirements that establishes that the consultant was not compensated and had no doctor-patient relationship.

The bill would prohibit the patient’s health care provider from using the consultant’s advice to reduce their own liability in a medical malpractice case.

The Alaska State Medical Association (ASMA) gave their support for the bill in written testimony. They said that because Alaska has a vast and unique health care delivery system, it is common practice for practitioners with a higher level of expertise to be contacted for a “curbside consult,” but these can leave the consulting physician at risk.

“Alaska’s history is that this information is freely dispensed, without charge. However, the fact that the person consulted has no access to records, no contact with the patient, no way to physically examine the patient, and no “chart” within which to enter any advice dispensed; leaves the consulting provider vulnerable and exposed if a lawsuit is filed. This vulnerability is causing questions to be asked about the viability of a practice which leaves the practitioner exposed to suit.”

The ASMA also recommended that the Legislature amend the bill to allow for requests from other licensed health care providers that are not currently named in the bill.

Robert Craig, CEO of the Alaska Heart and Vascular Institute, said:

“Since we don’t have a patient record and we may be unfamiliar with the patient in question, it places a special burden on our doctors to be open to potential civil liabilities. Our physicians are primarily concerned with giving timely and accurate information to the treating physician. The other option is we could advise the treating physician to send the patient to Anchorage or make a formal request by way of a consultation. The obvious downside there is the possibility of delayed care and increased health care costs to patients.”