MDA: articles

Operating on legalities

THE ABC's new drama series MDA, Medical Defence Australia, is ready to be screened - and everyone involved is smiling.

It's the smile you see on the face of someone handing over a gift they hope you will really like. A mixture of eager anticipation tempered with the anxious thought - what if they don't like it?

There is no doubt the ABC and Screentime, which produced MDA, should feel proud and excited. MDA is the freshest idea to be turned into a television series in a very long time. It is such a good idea it is hard to believe it has not been done before.

MDA mines the world of medical litigation and has all the human drama of a medical series wrapped up in the fascinating legal tangle of a law series.

Series producer Ric Pellizzeri says it is this overlap of genres which makes MDA so interesting. It offers such a wealth of stories to which people can relate that you're never be short of gripping material to work from.

MDA also exposes a big grey area where things are hardly ever clear-cut, right or wrong. Enter a solid cast of characters who must negotiate moral minefields and complicated personal lives and you have riveting television.

The story about where the idea for the series came from is almost as intriguing.

The ball was set rolling by ABC director of television Sandra Levy and her newly appointed head of drama Robyn Kershaw about a year ago. They wanted a new drama series and solicited ideas from various production companies.

Screentime was invited to submit something for a medical drama. Greg Haddrick and Des Monaghan, the co-creators of MDA, tried putting a new spin on anything and everything medical but nothing stood out.

Haddrick grilled every doctor he knew in an effort to turn up something which hadn't been done before. He eventually found what he was looking for in a school playground.

While waiting to collect his daughter one afternoon he started chatting to another parent. "She was a doctor and I knew she had shared a house with other doctors when she was an intern. I asked what they were all doing."

She got to the last doctor and said she was in medical defence. Haddrick's curiosity fired up. "I thought this is very interesting, a doctor who works shifts in a hospital but whose day job is a legal one. That was the starting point."

Amazed at what he had stumbled on Haddrick bounced the idea off Monaghan who leapt on it with glee.

From there it was into the research phase. Haddrick says the medical defence organisations were, in general, slightly reluctant to cooperate at first. "They feared the wide publicity would lead to more litigation. On the other hand they could see the flipside. That this could be beneficial, educating the public and may even reduce litigation."

Although it was not possible for Haddrick and Monaghan to go through records of actual cases, unless they had been reported in the media and were part of the public record, they were able to get an idea of the types of issues involved.

Haddrick immersed himself in the world of medical defence forming close links with several medical defence and indemnity organisations and with a law firm specialising in medical litigation. The scripts are checked by lawyers to ensure accuracy in the legal aspects.

Monaghan says the characters they created were a combination of people in the industry. "The characters came out of a need to have a number of players each of whom had to service various functions for MDA and for the drama."

From there it was a case of plotting storylines, planning what happens in the personal lives of the characters and then calling in the writers.

Although the series shows doctors under fire having to explain themselves when things have gone wrong, or when the patient says things have gone wrong, doctors are not shown in a negative light.

For series producer Ric Pellizzeri it was this balance which attracted him to the series. "If it was another Dr as God show based on the premise the doctor always saves lives, I wouldn't have been interested. I thought this showed doctors as human beings."

But there is more to it for Monaghan who, after a year of delving into the world of medical litigation, says, "I have come out with an enhanced respect for doctors".

He is hoping the series will give viewers another perspective on the hot issues of medical litigation, insurance and how it impacts on them.

By Liz Grant
July 24, 2002
The West Australian