Pursue holistic approach to dispute prevention, resolution

Mediation has the potential to resolve medical disputes not just amicably and more cost-effectively, but also fairly ("CJ seeks to ease doctors' fears of malpractice suits"; last Tuesday).

To achieve this, it is essential to professionalise mediation. Training and certification, domain knowledge of the dispute in question, and the timing and balance of being facilitative versus directive, are essential to the mediation skill set.

Even more powerful would be a more holistic approach to dispute prevention and resolution.

The medical profession can play the biggest role in helping itself.

Lack of communication is known to be a predominant factor in complaints and claims against healthcare professionals.

This is among the reasons mediation is effective in resolving such disputes.

Preventing a dispute has even more impact than resolving one well.

Doctors must employ sincere active listening with patients and their families, be empathic, clearly establish patient expectations and provide information pertinent to each patient in language he can understand.

Adverse outcomes, especially serious or unexpected ones, should be examined immediately for root cause analysis.

Empathy, a proper explanation, including admission of fault if established, and commitment to accountability go a long way in preventing unhappiness.

If the professional has fallen below the standard of care, resulting in harm, a proactive offer of appropriate restitution should be offered.

This is in line with the principle of restorative justice, and the ethos of the medical profession to be honest, compassionate and fair.

Never mind that similar programmes in countries like the United States have demonstrated cost savings.

A comprehensive approach to dispute prevention and resolution requires all stakeholders - including the Law Ministry, judiciary, medical and legal professions, public and private institutions, managed care organisations and medical indemnity providers - to work together in an objective and focused manner free of prejudices and vested interests.

Society would be the ultimate beneficiary.

Thereafter, perhaps the one thing left to address is the intentioned unreasonable complainant.

Peter Loke Chi Wei (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2016, with the headline 'Pursue holistic approach to dispute prevention, resolution'. Print Edition | Subscribe