Pennsylvania lawyers and physicians collaborate to break down barriers

September 25, 2019

CARLISLE, Pa. — A joint physician legal issues conference brought lawyers and physicians from across Pennsylvania to Dickinson Law to collaboratively explore health law issues. Hosted by the Pennsylvania Medical Society and Pennsylvania Bar Association on Sept. 13-14, the Pennsylvania Physicians’ Legal Issues Conference featured keynotes by Dr. Rachel Levine,  secretary of health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Penn State Health, and Pennsylvania State Rep. Bryan Cutler.

“Physicians and lawyers alike have so much to contribute to patients and to industries that require that we work together for the good of public health,” said Dickinson Law Dean and Donald J. Farage Professor of Law Danielle M. Conway, who also noted that the conference reflected Dickinson Law’s ongoing efforts to leverage its facilities and deep faculty expertise in health law for the betterment of law students, the rule of law, and the community.

“Whether through statute or regulation, the law affects how physicians interact with our patients and each other,” said Dr. Lawrence John, president-elect at the Pennsylvania Medical Society. “Therefore, it is important that we remain educated and aware of the constantly changing medical-legal landscape. This conference was a great opportunity for physicians to be in the know.”

Levine discussed Pennsylvania’s opioid crisis, noting legal changes such as the state's standing-order naloxone prescriptions that have helped save many lives. Cutler, who has experience as both a radiologist and health administrator, highlighted legal and budgetary obstacles to health improvement, and called on lawyers and physicians in attendance to reach out to their legislators and offer to share their expertise.

Both Levine and Cutler addressed two points that became a theme throughout the conference — that collaboration is pivotal to identifying the root problems in our health system, as well as developing real solutions for pivotal problems from opioid overdoses to surprise medical bills. Dickinson Law Professor of Law Katherine Pearson and Assistant Professor of Law Matthew Lawrence explored these points in their own presentations on panels addressing end-of-life issues and health care fraud, waste and abuse.

Physicians, lawyers and law students leaving the conference expressed excitement about the energy in the conference and their hope for building further collaborations between the medical and legal professions in Pennsylvania.

“Physicians might view the law with skepticism or with some fear because they’re worried about ways the law will come in and disrupt what they’re trying to do,” said Lawrence. “What the physicians attending this conference learned is that lawyers can be partners for physicians who are trying to make changes and break down barriers, and that is exciting.”

First-year law student Brian Chin — who is also pursuing a medical degree at Penn State College of Medicine — said, “The conference provided a unique environment to explore the intersection between law and medicine in Pennsylvania. I thoroughly enjoyed learning during this interprofessional event, and I look forward to its return.”

Pearson shared that she came away from the conference with new appreciation for how much physicians and lawyers agree about the need for systemic problems in healthcare, whether payment systems reform or quality of care issues.

“In every session, there I was, learning a new piece of information that I needed to know — even when I didn’t know I needed to know it," said Pearson. "I was taking notes at a fast pace and identifying potential article topics. At the end, my notebook resembled a diagram for a new public-transit system, which in a way is what we’re talking about when discussing legal issues in health care.”

“We have much in common as professionals serving our clients and patients,” said Anne N. John, Penn State class of 1983 and president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association. “Collaborations such as this conference give all of us an opportunity to learn together and to benefit from our collective knowledge and perspectives in a collegial and productive setting.”

Conway said, “A critical mass of Dickinson Law faculty are actively engaged in interdisciplinary efforts in the health law space. We are excited to be part of the conversation now and moving forward.”

The conference was spearheaded by Angela Boateng, general counsel of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, and a planning committee of lawyers, doctors and academics.

Visit the website to learn more about Dickinson Law.

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Last Updated September 26, 2019