Part 2 - Joint Commission Conflict Resolution Requirements And The Advantages Of A Hospital-Medical Staff Standing Neutral

     I previously introduced the concept of the hospital-medical staff standing neutral. In this Part 2 of a series, I will cover relevant Joint Commission requirements, and the advantages and drawbacks of using a hospital-medical staff standing neutral to resolve conflicts between hospitals and their medical staffs.

Joint Commission Requirements

     Joint Commission Leadership Standard LD.02.04.01 requires that "the hospital manages conflict between leadership groups to protect the quality and safety of care." The Elements of Performance supporting this standard require that "senior managers and leaders of the organized medical staff work with the governing body to develop an ongoing process for managing conflict among leadership groups."

     Similarly, Joint Commission Medical Staff Standard MS.01.01.01 requires that "Medical Staff bylaws address self governance and accountability to the governing body, including by way of Element of Performance 10, which says in part:

"The organized medical staff has a process which is implemented to manage conflict between the medical staff and the medical executive committee on issues including, but not limited to, proposals to adopt a rule, regulation, or policy or an amendment thereto."

     It is clear that the Joint Commission expects each hospital and its medical staff to have a dispute resolution mechanism in place. However, other than for the basic elements of the process (set forth in the Elements of Performance under LD.02.04.01), the Joint Commission leaves it up to each hospital and medical staff to fashion their own means of compliance. Most have simply adopted policies that mimic the Joint Commission's directives, but are short on detail, essentially leaving conflict resolution to a case-by-case process. Unfortunately, this typically results in the parties falling into their familiar routine: "lawyering up" and setting the litigation machine into motion. Establishment of a hospital-medical staff standing neutral fundamentally alters this habit - and its advantages far outweigh its drawbacks.

 

     Advantages

     1. Enables self-determination. The hospital and the medical staff remain in control of their relationship and the resolution of their differences, rather than abdicating to the legal system.

     2. Saves time. The standing neutral can be activated at a moment's notice. Once involved, the neutral's use of alternative dispute resolution processes can bring about a resolution more quickly than traditional legal proceedings.

     3. Less costly. The parties will spend less on lawyers and incur lower internal costs by resolving their disputes more quickly and efficiently.

     4. Creates trust and confidence. Because the parties have jointly selected the standing neutral, and jointly defined the neutral's role, they can be confident that the process used to resolve their dispute will be fair.

     5. Preserves relationships. Rather than "slugging it out" through legal proceedings, parties using a standing neutral are encouraged to cooperate in a process that will yield a fair result.

     6. Reduces the occurrence of disputes. Experience in the use of standing neutrals in the construction industry suggests that parties using this mechanism come to have fewer dispute as time goes on. This occurs because that each party realizes its position on any given issue will be quickly and candidly reviewed by a neutral who will hold both parties to the same standard of good faith and reasonableness. This forum does not favor hyperbole, stonewalling, bluffing and other tactics common to the traditional legal process. Accordingly, parties over time tend to self-regulate their demands and positions to more naturally coalesce around their common objectives.

     Drawbacks

     The establishment of a hospital-medical staff standing neutral is not without some perceived drawbacks.

     1. Cost. The cost of the standing neutral must be considered. However, when compared to the internal costs and legal fees associated with resolving disputes through conventional means, this cost is minimal.

     2. Loss of control. Some parties and their legal counsel may feel that the presence of a third party neutral will interfere with the party's ability to "control" the handling of disputes that arise. But the neutral only has whatever authority the parties agree upon in advance. In reality, parties have far less "control" over the process and outcome of conventional litigation than they might think. 

     3. Fear of bias. If a party believes the standing neutral is biased towards the interests of the other party, the process is bound to fail. This is why both parties must participate actively in the selection of the standing neutral. It also means the neutral must work diligently to remain unbiased and appear to be unbiased throughout the engagement.

     4. Confidentiality. Introduction of a standing neutral to the parties' discussions opens up the possibility that confidences will be disclosed. The parties must believe that the selected neutral will honor the obligations of confidentiality imposed under the parties' agreements and by law.

     Next up, defining the role of the hospital-medical staff standing neutral.

[Image: Unbalanced scales, January 8, 2007, via Wikimedia Commons]

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