TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, February 2, 2007

Med Mal & Apologies

I've written a few times about the "Sorry Works" approach and the like -- the basic idea being that if medical providers apologize for errors, it may reduce the likelihood of litigation and may further improve the odds of avoiding the error in the future.  Just over a week ago, the WSJ had a piece on the subject (paid sub. req.). 

I don't have a paid subscription (anyone should feel free to donate one; I sure love those little dot pictures), so I can't tell you much, but the summary in the e-mail to educators summarizes it like this:

This article explains a new approach physicians and hospitals are taking in reacting to medical errors. Traditionally, the medical community has taken a "defend and deny" stance anytime a patient develops problems possibly related to a medical error. Legal departments and risk managers advocated this policy in the past, thinking that it would protect them from lawsuits. A new and growing approach is to "disclose and apologize." The approach actually creates goodwill with the patient and makes them less likely to sue. Suggested steps include: full disclosure to the patients, documentation provided to the patient and family, an offer of an apology, explanation to the family how the mistake will be prevented in the future, and quick and fair compensation.  Doctors and medical facilities have found that claims and lawsuits drop when the new approach is implemented. Legal costs have also decreased.

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Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink" cites some similar studies. I don't have my copy of the book with me, but as I recall, in the studies, they recorded interactions between doctors and patients. They then took the recordings and edited out the words so that the people doing the study only heard tones of voices. Listening only to those tones, they were able to predict which doctors would eventually be sued with an astonishing rate of sucess. All of this was done without knowing any facts about the underlying treatment. Clearly, how patients are treated is a huge factor in future malp claims.

Posted by: Brooks Schuelke | Feb 2, 2007 12:27:54 PM

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