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Discovery is the process of finding (discovering) the relevant facts that must be presented to the court. Discovery by set rules is a modern innovation designed to further justice by giving both litigants access to the facts in the case. Discovery is termed a procedural rather than a substantive matter (an ironic use of language, since rules that affect the procedure of the law often have more profound effects than rules that affect the substance of the law). In most civil litigation, and especially in medical malpractice litigation, the majority of the time between the filing of the plaintiff's complaint and the point at which the case is ready for trial is taken up with discovery proceedings. These proceedings consume substantial resources and are quite expensive. A major argument for alternatives to litigation for resolving disputes is avoidance of the cost of discovery.

Understanding discovery will help physicians understand the legal role of medical records. Physicians are constantly told to keep good records, but this admonition has little force unless physicians know what constitutes a good record.

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