Research: Doctors, patients benefit when doctors apologize

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Administrators at hospitals and other medical facilities are always striving to improve patient satisfaction and reduce medical error. Still, mistakes persist throughout such facilities in Tennessee, leading to scores of medical malpractice suits every year. Surprising new research shows that medical malpractice claims could be resolved faster if physicians would simply apologize for their wrongdoing, allowing both the doctor and victim to move on from the incident.

An administrator at the University of Michigan Health System has developed and implemented a novel idea that allows physicians to own up to their mistakes while still giving patients a voice. The administrator, who has been in the medical profession for more than 30 years, realized early in his career that most patients simply want to be heard. Although attorneys for both sides sometimes take an adversarial stance, collaboration and discussion can be more effective and actually cost less.

The program involves early disclosure with a fast offer for a settlement. Rather than waiting for months or years to receive compensation, the patient is provided with financial relief almost immediately after a failed procedure or medical error. This benefits the malpractice victims because they are able to recover damages faster, while the hospital and insurer are happier because of reduced costs. Although the program is only available in a small percentage of medical facilities, experts say the trend is spreading because of its efficiency and usefulness. Patients report higher levels of satisfaction after they go through the meeting process, which generally involves a relatively short discussion rather than months of litigation. Patients can save money, time and anxiety by requesting the collaborative resolution process.

The same research shows that physicians are unnecessarily biased against people who file medical malpractice suits, with most claiming that frivolous lawsuits are out of control. In reality, only about 2 percent of victims ever file a claim. Patients deserve the opportunity to settle their claims in a safe, collaborative environment with the support of an attorney who is looking out for a patient’s best interests.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Medical malpractice: Why is it so hard for doctors to apologize?” Darshak Sanghavi, Jan. 27, 2013