Before Dr. Fred Levy attended law school, he viewed the law as a kind of dark side of medicine, with lawyers existing only to sue him if he made a mistake.
“Med students … are kind of afraid of it, frankly,” said Levy, an associate professor of emergency medicine at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
A joint program announced on Tuesday between Hopkins and the University of Baltimore School of Law aims to change that perception. The Center for Medicine and Law, scheduled to open in July, will focus on how law affects health care providers in their daily work.
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“There’s no way to practice medicine today effectively without having at least some knowledge of the law,” said Levy, who will become the center’s senior co-director.
Officials at both schools believe the center is the first in the nation to educate doctors about the law, developing a set of core competencies in law and medicine for health care providers and introducing the first peer-reviewed journal covering both fields. Other law schools have partnerships with doctors or hospitals but largely focus on bioethics or questions related to universal health care coverage, said Phillip J. Closius, dean of UB Law.
“Our function is trying to be more involved with the professions and less involved with those two topics,” he said. “It’s more about bringing doctors and lawyers together to start solving the practical problems doctors are facing, the medical industry is facing, that are legally related.”
In addition to offering classes to students at both schools, the center plans to host conferences, undertake research and publish position papers in an effort to become a national voice and authority on health care law for clinicians. If it were open today, the center would have a paper on the constitutionality of health care reform, Closius said. Other topics the center will examine include access to health care, patient safety, medical malpractice and tort reform and disaster medicine.
“There hasn’t been a lot of understanding and interaction between the two professions. That’s not going to work for 21st century medical problems,” Closius said. “Confrontation and litigation is not the answer.”
Joining Levy as a co-director of the center is Dr. Gregory Dolin, who will become an associate professor at UB law this summer.
“The center is not just going to bring medical and law school students together, but ultimately become a mini-think tank,” said Dolin, currently a visiting associate professor at The George Washington University Law School.
The center will not be housed in a central location but will be based at Hopkins until the law school’s new building opens next year. Closius said the law school will bring a fellow to the center when it opens and fund legal research assistants.
No decisions have been made about curriculum changes at Hopkins, Levy said, although he would like to see the legal concepts integrated throughout medical school courses.
Levy had been thinking about a program like the center since graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1999. He started a medical legal fellowship at Hopkins five years ago and has been working with UB on developing the center for more than two years. Closius has been giving seminars to Hopkins’ medical students on legal concepts for four years, and this year law and med students have been working together on case studies involving legal and medical issues.
“Any time you get a chance to partner with the best medical school on the globe, you take it,” he said of starting the center.
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Frederic N. Smalkin, a UB law professor who has been involved since the center’s earliest planning stage, said it could eventually offer a joint degree; Levy, for his part, hopes the center becomes a model that spreads across the country.
Both Levy and Closius see the center — and its connecting law and medicine — as necessary for doctors in the 21st century.
“Doctors realize now the law is influencing their lives, it’s influencing their practice,” Closius said. “It’s like having something influence your business you really don’t understand, and there’s a real thirst for it.”