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‘Shadow Consultations’ – why they are best avoided

This is an amended version of a recent article published by the College of Podiatry in their Journal, ‘Podiatry Now’. The original version can be found in the December 2019 issue, on page 27.

Introduction

As Peter Falk’s character Columbo makes to leave having interviewed a suspect he invariably stops, he turns and utters the immortal phrase “just one more thing”. That very line has been the starting point for many a ‘corridor consultation’.

Perhaps a patient has approached you outside of work? Or by telephone call? Or even at a social gathering?

A recent survey published in the December 2019 edition of ‘Podiatry Now’ suggests that most podiatrists have – a staggering 99% reported having given at least one ‘corridor consultation’ throughout their week. But peril lurks in such actions, as the story of Chaudhry v Prabhakar[1] shows.

The cautionary tale of Chaudhry v Prabhakar

Ms Chaudhry and Mr Prabhakar were very close friends, and Ms Chaudhry had just earned her driver’s license. New to the world of motoring, she asked her friend for some advice about the purchase of a car. She had only two stipulations: she did not want anything exorbitant, or anything that had suffered an accident. Mr Prabhakar offered his assistance, because he’d purchased a car before and had a good understanding of them. And, of course, he wanted to help out-of-the-kindness of his heart.

In other words, Prabhakar sought to recommend a car to Ms Chaudhry gratuitously – not unlike the 99% of aforementioned podiatrists and their free consultations.

Prabhakar’s hunt identified a Volkswagen Golf: one he deemed ‘good-looking’, with ‘a lot of make-up’. Despite noticing that the bonnet had been obviously replaced, he decided to recommend the car to Ms Chaudhry, labelling it in ‘very good condition’ and highlighting that the seller was a trusted friend who ‘would never give him a car that was not a good one’. Mr Prabhakar did not inform Choudhry that this was the first time he’d ever met the seller. Relying on her friend’s advice and knowledge, Ms Choudhry purchased the car for £4,500.

The Volkswagen Golf was not ‘in very good condition’. Far from it; an examination deduced that it had sustained a severe frontal impact and, to even be called roadworthy, the entire engine would need to be rebuilt. As you can imagine, it was not economical to repair, and was virtually valueless.

Ms Chaudhry had lost-out significantly, and brought an action against Mr Prabhakar for his negligent advice. Even though Mr Prabhakar had provided advice for free and as a friend, Ms Chaudhry was successful, with Mr Prabhakar being ordered to pay a weighty £5,526.58 compensation.

The moral of the story

The warning is obvious: as far as Chaudhry v Prabhakar is concerned, there’s no such thing as a ‘corridor consultation’. You have either given professional advice or you have not. When providing advice for free, you are held to the same professional standard a payee expects. Thus, haphazardly giving free advice should be avoided; the duty of care to undertake consultations in the proper manner continues to apply. Requests to provide advice to an individual in anything other than a professional consultation should be politely declined.

What can be done?

“Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you’ve been, ever, for any reason whatsoever.” — Michael Scott (Steve Carell), The Office, Season 5: The Duel.

Michael Scott’s quote encompasses the advice we long to give our clients what-with the fickleness of the law. However, though legally sound, it isn’t very workable.

So, what is one to do if you are asked for professional advice in an inappropriate setting?

Politely tell them that you can only offer a professional assessment after undertaking a proper consultation with any necessary examinations, and that is not possible in the circumstances of their request. Inform them how to make a formal consultation for assessment with you and/or signpost them to other appropriate services. Remember, you are under no obligation to give out free professional advice. Choosing to give advice outside of the context of an appropriate clinical assessment exposes you – and the patient – to unwarranted risk.

[1] [1989] 1 WLR 29, [1988] 3 All ER 718.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur LLP accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.