Admitting Medical Records in Probate Court as an Exception to the Hearsay Rule

Former OCGA § 24-3-18 (now § 24-4-826) provides a hearsay exception for medical reports in civil cases without requiring the doctor to testify at trial. Bell v. Austin, 278 Ga. 844, 845 (1) (a) (607 SE2d 569) (2005). See Owensby v. Williams, 355 Ga. App. 695 (2020) (Stating in footnote 2 that former OCGA § 24-3-18 is virtually identical to OCGA § 24-8-826). The report must be “in narrative form,” be signed and dated by an examining or treating physician or other health care professional listed in the statute, and address the “history, examination, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, or interpretation of tests or examinations” by the author. OCGA § 24-3-18 (a). In Bell v. Austin, we considered a challenge to the statute on the grounds that it violated due process because the phrase “medical report in narrative form” was unconstitutionally vague and indefinite. Rejecting the challenge and upholding the statute as constitutional, we explained that the law applies to reports that set out in “story form” the doctor’s assessment of the patient. Bell, 278 Ga. at 847. The law permits “the admission of only those reports which . . . set forth the relevant information in prose language that is more readily understandable to laymen” than unexplained medical terms and test results. Id.

In this case, the neurologist’s consultation report fails to meet the standards of a “narrative form” under Bell v. Austin. Although the report has some sections that use plain language understandable to a juror, it relies heavily on unexplained medical terms and abbreviations, includes lab results with minimal interpretation, and fails to set forth an assessment of the patient in story form. As a report prepared for the treating physician, it is the type of medical record that would require an expert analysis to clarify its implications. See id. See also Lott v. Ridley, 285 Ga. App. 513 (1) (647 SE2d 292) (2007) (holding recitation of neurologist’s unedited office records that do not explain medical terms and test results is not a medical narrative as contemplated by statute). See generally Paul S. Milich, Georgia Rules of Evidence § 19:16 (2011-2012 ed.) (“The ‘narrative’ required in the statute should be prepared (or approved and signed) by the physician or other listed health care provider in response to a specific request to prepare such a narrative for litigation.”). Therefore, we conclude that the neurologist’s report is not admissible under the hearsay exception for medical reports in OCGA § 24-3-18.

In the context of a personal injury action, Owensby v. Williams, 355 Ga. App. 695 (2020) discusses this rule at length.

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