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Medical Dispute Committees in the Netherlands: a qualitative study of patient expectations and experiences.

Dijkstra, R.I., Elbers, N.A., Friele, R.D., Pemberton, A. Medical Dispute Committees in the Netherlands: a qualitative study of patient expectations and experiences. BMC Health Services Research: 2022, 22(1), Art. nr. 650
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Health care incidents, such as medical errors, cause tragedies all over the world. Recent legislation in the Netherlands has established medical dispute committees to provide for an appeals procedure offering an alternative to civil litigation and to meet the needs of clients. Dispute committees incorporate a hybrid procedure where one can file a complaint and a claim for damages resulting in a verdict without going to court. The procedure is at the crossroads of complaints law and civil litigation. This study seeks to analyze to what extent patients and family members' expectations and experiences with dispute committees match the goals of the new legislation.

This qualitative, retrospective research includes in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with patients or family members who filed a complaint with a dispute committee in the Netherlands. The researchers conducted an inductive, thematic analysis of the qualitative data.

A total of 26 interviews were held with 30 patients and family members. The results showed that participants particularly felt the need to be heard and to make a positive impact on health care. Some wished to be financially compensated, for others money was the last thing on their mind. The results demonstrated the existence of unequal power relationships between participants and both the defendant and dispute committee members. Participants reported the added value of (legal) support and expressed the need for dialogue at the hearing. Participants sometimes experienced closure after the proceedings, but often did not feel heard or felt a lack of a practical outcome and a tangible improvement.

This study shows that participants' expectations and experiences were not always met by the current set up of the dispute committee proceedings. Participants did not feel heard, while they did value the potential for monetary compensation. In addition, some participants did not experience an empowered position but rather a feeling of a power misbalance. The feeling of a power misbalance and not being heard might be explained by existing epistemic injustice, which is a concept that should be carefully considered in processes after health care incidents.