Managing Divergent Opinions in the Life Care Plan

21 Aug 2023 10:21 AM | Lynette Pitt (Administrator)

Managing Divergent Opinions in the Life Care Plan
Betsy Keesler, BSN, RN, CLCP
InQuis Global

Life care plans are often used in the forensic setting for personal injury cases. They serve as both a plan for future care and cost estimate for such needs. The subject of a life care plan is referred to as an evaluee. The life care plan is an educational tool for the evaluee and the trier of fact, written in understandable language that can be readily duplicated and realistically implemented.

The most widely accepted definition of a life care plan is as follows:

The life care plan is a dynamic document based upon published standards of practice, comprehensive assessment, data analysis, and research, which provides an organized, concise plan for current and future needs with associated costs for individuals who have experienced catastrophic injury or have chronic health care needs.” (International Conference on Life Care Planning and the International Academy of Life Care Planners. Adopted 1998, April.)

The recommended services and items in a life care plan must have a solid medical and health care foundation. The life care plan outlines provisions to meet the biopsychosocial needs of the evaluee. The life care plan requires the input and expertise of multiple disciplines coming together to create one comprehensive plan tailored to the evaluee’s individualized needs. As such, the foundation of the life care plan is described as transdisciplinary in nature.

In the forensic arena, there may be conflicting treatment opinions expressed throughout the course of life care plan development, as well as after the plan’s formal release. The life care planning Consensus and Majority Statements (2018) inform the life care planner of an obligation to “methodically handle divergent opinions.” (Consensus Statement #65). The Consensus Statements are derived from 17 years of past life care planning summits, with input from life care planning experts. They are a key part of life care planning methodology. Therefore, they provide reliable and trustworthy guidance on ways to compare recommendations.

In addition, life care planning Consensus Statement #84 states the following:

Review of evidence-based research, review of clinical practice guidelines, medical records, medical and multidisciplinary consultation and evaluation/assessment of evaluee/family are recognized as best practice sources that provide foundation for life care plans.”

On closer inspection, there are typically five sources of information to support expert medical opinion:

  • The evaluee’s medical record
  • Evaluation/assessment of the evaluee/family
  • Consultation with treating and/or evaluating health care providers
  • Professional clinical practice guidelines
  • Evidence-based peer reviewed literature

A thorough review of medical records is one starting point for gathering relevant health care data. Medical records represent the factual past history of treatments already received and, sometimes, the projected future health care needs as recommended by the treating provider(s). The medical records unveil which treatments were tolerated by the evaluee and led to favorable outcomes. Likewise, they also reveal which ones were considered or tried, but were not feasible to conduct. Also, medical records serve as a cross reference to life care planning recommendations.

When permitted, the life care planner should conduct a formal evaluation and assessment of the evaluee. Likewise, a forensic medical expert, who may be relied upon to provide medical foundation, may also perform an in-person or telehealth medical evaluation as the basis for recommendations. The life care planner will likely need to speak with the evaluee’s treating and/or evaluating health care providers. With the analysis of medical records, the life care planner’s assessment of the evaluee, review of clinical practice guidelines, research and consultation with the treating and/or evaluating health care provider(s), there should be adequate medical foundation and individualized data established to begin formulating a life care plan.

However, sometimes the forensic medical expert will rely solely upon medical treatment and diagnostic records, sans personal evaluation, to formulate an expert opinion regarding the future health care needs for the evaluee. As such, the medical expert opinion(s) issued may not agree with the current treatment plan in place, setting up a scenario for divergent medical opinions.

Finally, the review and analysis of clinical guidelines and peer-reviewed literature is essential. Clinical practice guidelines are the gold standard outlining best practice. These statements, usually developed by medical organizations and academies, are intended to provide sound rationale to guide effective clinical treatments for individuals. In essence, clinical practice guidelines define the how to and the why in health care practice. Also, peer-reviewed literature is important to the life care plan. It represents expert scholarly research, work or ideas that have been critically scrutinized by other experts of the same field prior to acceptance for publication. Such a peer-reviewed process ensures the scientific quality and validity of the research.

Regardless of whether the life care planner is creating or reviewing a plan, it is incumbent upon the individual to indicate where divergent medical opinions lie and how he/she plans to deal with the range of findings. Specific areas to consider when evaluating medical opinions include:

  • Is the rendering expert consultant and/or treater acting within his/her scope of practice?
  • Do the medical records give any indication of what treatments provided were beneficial and which ones were not suitable for the evaluee?
  • Do the medical records indicate what the treating provider was planning for the future?
  • Do the medical records give any indications the evaluee has reached maximum medical improvement and whether future care consists of conservative medical management moving forward or not?
  • Are the future care recommendations individualized for the evaluee?
  • Are the recommendations reasonable and attainable?
  • Can the evaluee actually implement the recommendations from where he/she lives?
  • Has the evaluee made any statements as to whether or not he/she intends to pursue the recommendations?
  • Do the clinical guidelines and standards of practice support the same recommendations given by the medical and/or health care professionals?
  • What medical information/opinions are discovered in deposition testimony?
  • Within deposition testimony, have any parties contradicted themselves or changed their opinions regarding future care needs?

Consensus statement #75 asserts, “Life Care planning products and processes shall be transparent and consistent.” The life care planner, as an educator for the evaluee and the jury, should acknowledge when divergent opinions and contradictions exist. Such differing recommendations/opinions may dictate the need to provide more than one plan option in order to develop a reasonable, relevant, and appropriate life care plan individualized to the evaluee. If one recommendation is chosen over another, the life care planner should be prepared to explain the rationale for making such a decision. Moreover, the rational should follow accepted methodology, standards and consensus while being fully transparent and unbiased.

In closing, it is the life care planner’s responsibility to present a life care plan containing feasible treatment and care options, in a transparent and understandable way, using the proper application of peer-reviewed methodology, standards and consensus. In the forensic arena, the life care planning process should aid the trier of fact in making informed and appropriate decisions.


Cary, John, et al., 2023. “A Walk Through from Referral to Testimony: Methodology & Admissibility.” Journal of Life Care Planning, 21 (1), 69-84.

Deutsch, Paul M., “Tenants of Life Care Planning.” Paul M. Deutsch & Associates, P.A.

International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals & International Academy of Life Care Planners, 05/07/2019, “Transdisciplinary Position Statement.”

International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals & International Academy of Life Care Planners, April 2022, “Code of Ethics.”

Johnson, C; Pomeranz, J. & Stetten, N. 2018. “Consensus and Majority Statements Derived from Life Care Planning Summits Held in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2017 and updated via Delphi Study in 2018.” Journal of Life Care Planning, 16 (4), 15-18.

Standards of Practice for Life Care Planners, Fourth Edition. 2022. International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals & International Academy of Life Care Planners.

Weed R. O., Berens D.E., (editors). 2018. Life Care Planning and Case Management Handbook. (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.


Betsy Keesler earned a Diploma in Nursing from Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in 1987 where she was awarded Clinical Excellence in Pediatric Nursing upon graduation. Ms. Keesler subsequently completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing during 1990 with receipt of High Distinction through George Mason University. In 2021, she completed 120-hours of post graduate training for life care planning through the Institute for Rehabilitation Education and Training (IRET). Ms. Keesler is a registered nurse (RN) and a certified life care planner (CLCP). She has worked in the hospital setting as a registered nurse (RN) for Pediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Units and within the outpatient medical setting as a community health nurse. As a community health nurse, she coordinated and provided care for a large and diverse patient population within the school system. Also, Ms. Keesler was a nursing manager for the Adult Evaluation and Review Service within the Maryland Department of Health. Her clinical work through the public health department involved the coordination of medical and nursing services to support ongoing safe community living for persons with catastrophic diagnoses and chronic health conditions. Ms. Keesler has held numerous leadership positions throughout her nursing career and was the recipient of the Maryland Nurse of the Year award during 2009. She currently works full-time as a life care planner with Inquis Global, LLC.

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