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Medical Apology Strategy Shows Signs of Strength

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, May 3, 2012

"What we are doing now is taking that model that has been very successful at the University of Michigan Health System, at Stanford and numerous other hospital systems across the country, and we're saying, ‘why don't we implement this as a statewide model?" Woodward says. "That's what makes this different."

What's also different is that Massachusetts Medical Society officials plan to help hospitals involved in the pilot program on a day-to-day basis when confronting potential malpractice situations.  The society is working with physicians who may have experienced malpractice litigation themselves and can serve as mentors to other physicians, he adds. 

"A mentor would be someone with a greater breadth of experience or [someone who] has gone through this themselves, who can help the clinician prepare to have a dialogue with a patient," Woodward says. When physicians discuss mistakes with patients, they can "always make the situation worse, if they make people feel worse rather than better."

In addition, the program is establishing a blog and a research system with data to support physicians. Education programs are vital, Woodward says, because "very few physicians know how to do this," referring to the apology technique.

Barriers to overcoming medical liability reform are included in the Massachusetts Medical Society's Roadmap to Reform. Among the roadblocks the report cites is physician discomfort with disclosure of errors.

But it's that very thing—admitting a mistake and saying "I'm sorry"—that's a first step towards the reform so many are seeking.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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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.