The idea of a "standing neutral" is well known within the construction industry, and has been used there in various forms for many years. The construction standing neutral is a trusted expert selected by the owner and the contractor at the outset of a project who remains available until the project's conclusion to assist the parties in resolving disputes as they arise. A standing neutral for construction projects works well because the parties have an ongoing relationship, and a mutual need to resolve disputes quickly and efficiently.
Hospitals and their organized medical staffs stand in a similar posture, but with even greater interdependence. Their relationship is ongoing, indeed, it's perpetual. Rather than a contractual arrangement in which the parties exchange money for goods and services, the relationships between hospitals and their medical staffs are symbiotic. The hospital needs the members of its medical staff to admit and care for patients, and needs the organized staff to oversee and regulate the practice of medicine within the hospital's facilities. The members of the medical staff need the facilities, equipment, nurses and other personnel that the hospital provides, and the physicians cannot afford.
The smooth functioning of the hospital-medical staff relationship is crucial to their common economic well-being. As forces beyond their control strain that relationship, conflicts will arise. Just as in the case of an ongoing construction project, the parties can choose to address these conflicts on an ad hoc basis, or proactively provide for a mechanism that stands ready to resolve conflicts as they arise: the hospital-medical staff standing neutral.
This is the first in a series of posts on this subject. It is drawn from an article I wrote in the September-October issue of the Physician Executive Journal ("PEJ") (subscription required). Future posts will address the advantages of a hospital-medical staff standing neutral, including Joint Commission standards on conflict resolution that favor its use; defining the role of the hospital-medical staff standing neutral; and the process for selection of a hospital-medical staff standing neutral.
[Image: Chair umpire referee on court 18 at Wimbledon 2006, via Wikimedia Commons]