This paper describes the introduction of the ombudsman concept into a large academic medical center. The medical center can be viewed as a relatively well-defined community with a complex network of employer-employee and employee-employee relationships. The organizational and interpersonal structure of the medical center, together with the increasing complexity of health care, education, and research; the growth of health-care institutions; and the increasing competition for resources within the health-care community, have enhanced the potential for conflict and controversy and have made them more complex.
The ombudsman concept provides a useful vehicle for nonlitigational conflict resolution within the medical center setting and is frequently used by the center's various constituencies. Equally important, use of the ombudsman provides a means for the identification of generic problems and promotes the anticipation, discussion, and resolution of impending conflicts before they evolve into formal disputes.