For example, with a new policy on apologies, Toro, the lawn mower folks, reduced the average cost of a claim from $115,000 in 1991 to $35,000 in 2008—and the company hasn’t been to trial since 1994. The VA hospital in Lexington, Massachusetts, developed an astonishing approach to apologizing for errors (forthcoming—even when no patient request or claim was made). In 2000, the overall mean VA system malpractice settlement was $413,000. The Lexington VA hospital settlement # was $36,000—and there were far fewer per patient claims to begin with.
After years of giving advice to “deny and defend,” some hospitals are instructing providers to admit to and apologize for mistakes (medical errors). Not surprisingly (or maybe surprisingly), this humanistic approach to medicine has reduced lawsuits. It seems patients appreciate not being lied to…
(Real, True, Actual) Communication works. The New York Times reports:
But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.
By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.
Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.
Despite some projections that disclosure would prompt a flood of lawsuits, hospitals are reporting decreases in their caseloads and savings in legal costs. Malpractice premiums have declined in some instances, though market forces may be partly responsible.
Thirty-four states have passed laws making provider apologies inadmissible in court to alleviate any concerns. Applause for forward thinking.