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3 Tips for Negotiating with Medical Professionals

Notes on Negotiation

Written by Marty Latz, Latz Negotiation Institute

My Dad was recovering from emergency surgery to his abdominal area about 8 years ago when one of the hospital’s physicians told us that a blood clot had formed in his arm just below his shoulder. The doctor told us we had two options, neither of them good.


She said he could 1) go on a blood thinner that could help dissolve the clot but might cause internal bleeding where he had his surgery. And if the internal bleeding occurred, he would likely die as they couldn’t go in there again to fix it.


Or he could 2) do nothing and hope the clot dissolved on its own, which was “equally risky” as it might dislodge, travel, and cause a fatal heart attack or stroke. She said it was a “50/50 choice.” We didn’t have much time to decide.

What did we do? In effect, how did we negotiate with the doctor? And yes, it was a negotiation, as we were the decision-makers but the doctor and the hospital had to implement our decision.


Initially, recognize that doctors are experts but are not infallible. They can and do disagree with one another, even based on the exact same symptoms and conditions.


Taking this as our baseline assumption, we did three things that translate to my three tips to negotiating with medical professionals.


One, we sought more information and did our own research on his condition. The internet can be a life-saver. Of course, this corresponds to my First Golden Rule of Negotiation: Information is Power-So Get It!


Two, we contacted two other doctors to get a second and then a third opinion. Surprisingly, both – while reluctant to give advice that contradicted their colleague– told us it was NOT a 50/50 choice. One, a surgeon at the hospital, confidentially told us to absolutely not go on a blood thinner. He said the possibility of the clot causing a catastrophic event was about 10%, not 50%.


The third doctor agreed with the surgeon, telling us to wait as clots like this will likely just dissolve. Plus, if it travels, he said, it will likely get stuck in the shoulder and not be fatal.


This second tip corresponds to my Third Golden Rule of Negotiation: Employ “Fair” Objective Criteria. When dealing with doctors and medical professionals, find more standards and benchmarks.


Our course was now clear – no blood thinner. We told the initial doctor our decision, and we just had to then wait. It was a good thing, though, that we stayed at the hospital. An hour later, a nurse came into the room and told us he was there to administer my Dad’s blood thinner medication.


The initial doctor, before we made our decision, had ordered the blood thinner just in case. She forgot to cancel it.

We obviously stopped it. The third negotiation tip? Once you get a deal, don’t ignore the implementation. Make sure your deal gets done the right way. Fortunately, the clot dissolved a short time later.


Latz's Lesson: Negotiating with doctors can be intimidating, as they often have great and specialized expertise. But don’t despair. Instead, do your research, get independent opinions, and follow through.

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Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation Institute, a national negotiation training and consulting company, and ExpertNegotiator, a Web-based software company that helps managers and negotiators more effectively negotiate and implement best practices based on the experts' proven research. He is also the author of Gain the Edge! Negotiating to Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004). He can be reached at 480-951-3222 or Latz@ExpertNegotiator.com



ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN • Premier Indiana CLE

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