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Medical Apology Strategy Shows Signs of Strength

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, May 3, 2012

I'm just starting this column and already I'm saying, "I'm sorry."

A year ago, I wrote how the University of Michigan Health System found it extremely worthwhile in cost savings and patient satisfaction when physicians apologized for doing something wrong.

I'm bringing it up again, and I'm sorry for repeating myself, but there's much more to say about this now.

In medical cases, apologies don't make the malpractice issue go away, nor do they necessarily prevent such litigation.  I'm writing about this simple practice again because other, similar efforts are worth spotlighting in their attempts to reduce malpractice litigation, not only through scattered health systems across the country, but on a statewide stage.

For instance, the Massachusetts Medical Society last month announced plans for a pilot program involving hospitals, physicians, academics and insurers to use an approach of "Disclosure, Apology and Offer" to reform the medical liability system in the Bay State. 

The DA&O refers to when physicians admit mistakes, offer an apology, and potentially offer to settle the issue, not necessarily in court. The program was initiated after the society released a report, Roadmap to Reform, which focused on exploring alternative approaches to the existing tort system involving medical liability.

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1 comments on "Medical Apology Strategy Shows Signs of Strength"


Mounir Marhaba (5/21/2012 at 4:49 AM)
Your message makes absolute sense from both civility, accountability and good manners, and I am personally for disclosing adverse events to patients. However, the problem is a bit more complex for professionals working in hospitals and clinics, especially, when you introduce legalistic, financial and licensing liability issues into the equation. In certain international jurisdictions more than money might be on the block! This is where people tend to put their brakes on...naturally, and probably as part of prudent legal advice e.g. the apology comes after an investigation and the degree of error involved. If there is a strategy/guidelines that can delineate the circumstances, when a provider can be apologetic,while taking the local laws into consideration, then that will indeed be helpful to providers, so they may appear to be more compassionate. Thanks.