Physicians avoiding mediation, missing opportunities

Despite its promise as a faster, lower-cost alternative to malpractice litigation, out-of-court mediation remains unpopular with doctors, according to a study published in the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy and Law.

Using structured interviews of participants and mediators in 31 mediated malpractice lawsuits involving 11 nonprofit hospitals in New York City, the study measured perceptions of the process and mediation's effects on settlement, expenses, apology, satisfaction and information exchange.

Most who participated in mediation--including plaintiff and defense attorneys, plaintiffs, hospital representatives, and insurers--were satisfied with the process, which in some cases led to hospital changes to improve patient safety. Nonetheless, of the 31 cases studied, 16 were settled during mediation, five were settled afterward and 10 were not settled. Settlements ranged from $35,000 to $1.7 million.

Notably, physicians did not take part in the mediation process for any of the cases studied. Interviews with defense attorneys cited physicians' busy schedules and concern over being attacked verbally as reasons the doctors did not attend. But according to study authors, these absentee physicians missed a valuable opportunity not only to apologize to plaintiffs, but to benefit personally.

"Plaintiffs and physicians both benefit in unexpected ways by participating in mediation of medical malpractice lawsuits," Chris Stern Hyman, from Medical Mediation Group, told Medical Economics. "Physicians often hear information about practices or policies that need change and experience emotional relief and closure as a result of the exchanges with the plaintiff."

To learn more:
- read the article in Medical Economics
- see the piece in Renal & Urology News
- here's the abstract of the study in the Journal of Health, Politics & Law