How long does it take to compile a chronology from 5000 pages of medical records? It really does vary with each case. Sometimes a law firm will ask me not to produce a chronology with the goal of saving money; “just focus on xyz”. That is fine for an expert witness, but not for a legal nurse who is responsible for knowing about and explaining the medical issues of a case. Invariably in a complex case, searching for a piece of data down the road or even later in the week will consume much more time than documenting it in the beginning. This is true for pdf or paper records.
In medical malpractice, 5000 pages means hospital records and a range of healthcare provider data. Sometimes the sentinel event is clearly defined in a narrow time frame; healthcare prior to that point, while important to know, may be irrelevant to a wrongful death. When I receive a large paper case, the first thing I do is heave it on the table and begin rapidly sorting into a stack that I know I will not need (but will keep), a stack that does not look important but may become so, and a stack that requires close scrutiny.
I work from the scrutiny pile in detail. Eventually, I will see a reference to something in my “maybe” stack so I return there to pull the page. By now, I have a feel for the case and will spot other important pages to pull. Every piece of paper that I reference in the chronology is retained in a new stack that is now taking shape. When all the data is entered, I sort it chronologically and read it again from a fresh perspective; chronological order makes it easier to identify missing records or redundant care.
I make a copy of that pertinent reference stack for the attorney. Oftentimes, my attorneys do not use or want Bates stamping unless it is mass tort (although it usually makes everyone’s job easier). Either way, if they do not know the source of data, they or their paralegal will be wasting precious time trying to find it without this copy.
The chronology forms the basis of any research or articles that support, refute, or simply clarify my case.
Only then do I sit down and compose the report, which may only require a few hours initially. I always sleep on my report, re-read it the next morning and again later in the day. I then print it to see possible errors that were not evident on the computer. I repeatedly proof, determine that the ease of readability is appropriate and that the percentage of passive sentences is reasonable. I tweak it to death but I do not charge for this obsessive behavior – perfection is a relative term.
I present the data in a professional folder and off it goes, although the attorney may need the summary report immediately. If so, I protect the file so it cannot be altered and email it in advance.
From personal experience, the average time required to work up a case of this size is ~ 20 hours. The time may be more or less depending upon the event in question. If the patient died in the first day or week of an event, it takes far less time to document than when tracking health changes over the course of time.
Large or small, the chronology is the basis for medical conclusions that may lay dormant for a year for legal reasons. A year down the road, everyone is grateful for this key document.