Doctors gain legal training to treat patients

Physicians are adding another skill to their resume: legal training. The mix of medical and legal training can help prepare providers treat patients, particularly in Florida that has a large elderly, transient and immigrant population, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Although universities that offer joint medical and law degree programs are still relatively rare--less than a dozen--at least 38 have some kind of interaction between the medical and law schools, according to Megan Sandel, who directs the advocacy group, National Center for Medical Legal Partnership.

Florida State University, for example, offers programs in which medical students take classes alongside law students.

"Our aim is not to make doctors into lawyers," said Marshall Kapp, a law school professor who directs the Florida State University program. "Our aim to create doctors who are sensitive to the law and understand the importance of interacting with lawyers."

The mission statement further explains, the purpose of the Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law "is to identify and facilitate ... opportunities for members of the medical and legal professions, working together and with others, to foster improvements in the quality of life," according to the center website.

Some of the issues that students study are patient confidentiality, end-of-life decisions and informed consent for disabled patients, the article noted. In fact, in more than 70 percent of legal disputes about informed consent, patients say the doctor--often a surgeon--didn't adequately explain the risks of complications, according to a Medical Journal of Australia study last year.

How can the combined medical/legal expertise be applied to patient care?  Physicians who have training about living wills, for example, can see to it that dying patients' wishes are respected. The combined medical and legal training could prove to be useful, as palliative care is one of the fastest growing specialties.

For more information:
- read the Sun Sentinel article
- visit the FSU website

Related Articles:
Hospital-recommended lawyers: A conflict of interest?
ER providers need more palliative training
Patients want better informed consent, doc communications
Legal experts define patient-centered care