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Medicolegal issues and disorders of consciousness.

NeuroRehabilitation 2024 January 9
BACKGROUND: The tasks and responsibilities that come with clinician involvement in medicolegal proceedings can be daunting and particularly so in challenging areas such as provision of medicolegal opinions in cases involving disorders of consciousness (DoC).

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this narrative review was to provide education and advice to healthcare practitioners who by choice or circumstance are asked and/or required to provide medicolegal opinions in cases involving patients with DoC.

METHODS: A literature search was conducted using PubMed Central and MedlinePlus for articles dealing with clinician involvement in medicolegal cases involving persons with DoC. The information provided also integrates the authors nearly 40 years of clinical experience and brain injury medicine practice and "trials and tribulations" associated with medicolegal involvement in such cases.

RESULTS: The literature was found to be replete with articles on brain death and withdrawal/withholding of care (which are not the focus of this review). The extant medical literature in brain injury medicine on the other hand is currently lacking in practical information for clinicians working "in the trenches" regarding the challenges and caveats of medicoegal involvement in such cases.

CONCLUSION: This review provides the reader with a big picture overview of the most pertinent medicolegal topics inherent in clinical work with patients with DOC including pertinent nomenclature, caveats regarding forensic consultation including independent medical examinations, testimony tips, discussion of life expectancy/median survival concepts, prognostication in a medicolegal context, documentation and record keeping as well as some of the specific challenges pertinent to these types of brain injury cases that are not per se relevant in less severe injuries.

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