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Study Shows Doctors Absent at Medical Malpractice Mediation

Medical malpractice is a complicated and expensive area of personal injury law. It usually involves long, drawn-out distressing litigation. Mediation has become a procedure that appears to be an alternative option to litigation. But, according to a study published in the Journal of Health Politics and Law, physicians are not participating in the mediation process. Some say that doctors who fail to take part in this method of dispute resolution are thwarting the process.

Mediation is a conflict resolution process in which the parties meet with an impartial third-party, or mediator, who is either appointed by the court or chosen by the parties. It is informal and voluntary and allows parties to present their arguments to the mediator, who weighs their positions and then attempts to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution. Mediation has been a useful substitute for costly litigation and, some say, has helped bring down medical malpractice premiums.

The Study

Recently, investigators studied 31 mediation cases from nonprofit hospitals in the New York City area. The study-according to the Journal of Health Politics and Law-revealed that sixteen of the cases were settled at mediation and five were settled afterward. All the participating parties -including lawyers, insurers, plaintiffs and hospital representatives - expressed satisfaction with the process. The only problem was that no physicians participated in any of the mediations.

Busy doctors was the universal excuse provided. However, some feel that the lack of physician participation was because hospital officials and insurance defense lawyers were reluctant to expose their clients, albeit fearing that their clients might admit to error (despite the confidentiality of the mediation).

The study's authors expressed disappointment in the revelation. They indicated that the mediation process presented an opportunity for doctors to repair the doctor-patient relationship, improve patient safety, as well as help to gather information and explore what might have gone wrong

Further, the participation of physicians could also have led to more settlements. Although malpractice payments are reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) - a practice that might dissuade physicians from settling - efforts could be made to eliminate that requirement if early settlements are achieved. Also, mediations often result in lower settlement payments and reduced costs and eliminate the ordeal of long and painful trials.


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