Find balance between protecting patients, shielding docs

Dr Yik Keng Yeong made several noteworthy points related to the practice of medicine in Singapore and factors which may cause doctors to practise defensive medicine ("Mediation, though not perfect, is the way forward"; last Thursday).

However, certain comments that were made in relation to mediation should be clarified.

Dr Yik fears that once mediation becomes prevalent, "opportunistic patients" will come out of the woodwork and clamour to have their day in the dispute resolution centres.

The reality is that mediation is a voluntary mode of dispute resolution where both parties are free to choose whether or not they wish to participate.

Unlike in litigation, where the failure to respond to a writ or summons usually results in the court passing judgment in default, there is no penalty for not responding to or attending mediation, if justifiable.

As to the hope that the role of mediators be shouldered by judges, it must be understood that the mediator's role is not to make a determination as to the merits of either party's case, but rather, to help facilitate the negotiation.

The mediator will assist parties to see beyond their own rigid positions and understand what the interests of the opposite side are, and, hopefully, come up with solutions that can go beyond monetary compensation.

Further, the assertion that judges possess more gravitas than lawyers is not entirely true.

The qualities that count most in a mediator are experience and patience - being a judge does not automatically imbue one with either.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that while there are frivolous lawsuits, there are also negligent doctors - the struggle is between protecting the rights of patients seeking redress and shielding doctors and other medical practitioners from the opportunistic.

Mediation, thus, is an appropriate forum that should be considered by all parties prior to commencing litigation.

It is depressing to think of how much time and resources are wasted once accusations and threats begin.

In many situations, all that is needed to resolve the matter is either a sincere clarification of the facts or a heartfelt apology, and appropriate compensation if the doctor has been negligent.

Kyle Leslie Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Find balance between protecting patients, shielding docs'. Print Edition | Subscribe