The main medical field in which law is involved is medical disputes (medical malpractice cases). However, there are also a variety of other fields including labor issues, uncollected medical expenses, legal consultation on issues such as disclosing medical records and protection of personal information, business succession for medical organizations, ethical review of clinical research, and serving as an instructor during study sessions and training at medical institutions. Furthermore, legal professionals now have more opportunities to become involved in medical safety due to the start of the Medical Accidents Investigating System, which began operation on October 1, 2015 in accordance with the amended Medical Care Act. In 2016, district courts throughout Japan received 834 new cases of medical litigation. In the past few years, the number of such cases has hovered around 800. Recently, there seems to be an increase in medical litigation related to dentistry. At district courts in urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka, departments focusing on medical litigation have been established, and efforts are being made for increased efficiency and streamlining of such cases. Although medical litigation is commonly viewed as requiring a long time to process, the average trial period for medical litigation in Japanese district courts in 2016 was 24.2 months, about 2 years. Furthermore, the rate of witness testimony was 43.9% and the rate of expert examination was 7.7%. Another notable feature is that, in the majority of medical litigations, both parties to the lawsuit are represented by legal counsel, and about half of all cases end in settlement.
My discussions with doctors and nurses have caused me to recognize how, particularly in urban areas, the number of patients has increased due to rapid aging of the population. Also, due to the advancement of medicine and an increase in the number of patients who have an underlying disease, the amount of medical resources used for each patient is increasing. By 2025, the baby boom generation will have reached the age of 75 and older (classified as latter-stage elderly in Japan) and the number of patients is forecasted to increase even more. Consequently, there is little chance that the tight conditions at medical institutions will be improved any time soon. Another issue is the overwork of healthcare workers. As a lawyer involved with medical institutions, my duties include resolving medical disputes quickly and accurately, and thinking together with medical professionals about the various new problems faced by medical institutions. Through these duties, I provide support which enables doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers to focus on their true profession of medicine, which I believe is important for benefiting both medical institutions and patients.
Lawyers and doctors have a different way of thinking. There are times when lawyers and doctors use the same language to express different meanings and nuances (for example, the phrase “cannot be denied”). One role of lawyers when representing medical institutions in medical litigation is to serve as an interpreter that facilitates communication between doctors and judges. I realize that mutual understanding between the medical profession and legal profession is important during litigation. For example, documents submitted to the court are naturally written using large amounts of specialized medical terminology. Every day, I struggle to find ways to create documentation which will enable judges to understand the true condition of medical practices.