As with other institutional settings, physicians should request a written
description of their duties before accepting a position. For example, some
jurisdictions have specific arrangements in the jail health system or with the
county hospital system to take blood samples and other specimens from
criminal suspects. Physicians accepting a position in prison health should know
whether they will be called upon to obtain such biologic evidence and to
provide court-ordered medical testing and involuntary treatment.
Independent contractor physicians do not enjoy governmental immunity from
suit in the way that governmental employee prison officials do. Such physicians
should be particularly careful not to compromise their professional standards
when caring for prisoners. Care that would be protected from suit if performed
by an employee of the prison system may be actionable if performed by an
independent physician. Contract physicians should also ask the prison
authorities to indemnify them for legal expenses and lost time if they are
named as parties in civil rights litigation against the prison medical care
system. Such actions may not be covered by medical malpractice insurance.
Without such an agreement, a private physician may have to spend tens of
thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of uncompensated time defending
actions taken on behalf of the prison.