Selecting A Hospital-Medical Staff Standing Neutral

March 13, 2012

       This fourth and final installment on the Hospital-Medical Staff Standing Neutral will address the neutral selection process. Previous posts introduced the concept, its advantages and relation to Joint Commission requirements, and how to define the neutral\’s role.

       The essence of the standing neutral concept is: (1) an expert, neutral person is selected in advance by both parties to an ongoing transaction or relationship; (2) the neutral is given sufficient information to be familiar with the parties as problems arise; and (3) the neutral remains readily available to assist the parties in resolving disputes quickly and efficiently. The neutral selection process should reflect these expectations.

       The process of selecting a hospital-medical staff standing neutral is best undertaken by a committee representative of the interests likely to be involved in the conflicts to be managed. On the hospital side, this might include a member of the board of trustees, the hospital CEO, the CMO and in-house counsel. On the medical staff side, the group might include the current president of the medical staff, the immediate past president or president elect, and the Chiefs of Medicine and Surgery. If hospital in-house counsel will participate, and the medical staff has regular independent counsel, medical staff counsel should also be included.

       The selection committee should attempt to identify a person who can carry out the standing neutral\’s responsibilities. That person would be:

1. Neutral (i.e. have no no current or recent relationship with any of the parties);

2. Expert in the subject matter of the likely disputes (probably a lawyer specializing in hospital-physician matters);

3. Trained and experienced in dispute resolution processes;

4. Readily available as conflicts arise; and,

5. Cost effective.

Above all, the neutral selected should have the confidence of both the hospital and the medical staff.

       With the selection of a qualified standing neutral and a commitment to the process of conflict management, hospitals and medical staffs can better face the challenges that threaten the relationships so vital to their existence.

[Image: Football referees at a Razorback game, October 6, 2007, by Belinda Hankins Miller]