At some point in their career, caregivers will make a mistake delivering care to a patient. The mistake may be minor, or it may be a sentinel event. After an error, healthcare workers may be reluctant to address the event with the patient, for fear of making the patient angry or mistrustful of the people providing care.
However, ignoring the mistake leads to increased litigation. Doug Wojcieszak, who founded the medical apology program Sorry Works, says that people sue, not because they're greedy, but because they're angry. And things only get worse when the physician or nurse walks away or ignores the patient.1
Rather than having their staff say nothing to the patient or the family, some hospitals are changing their policies to provide full disclosure regarding the error and offer an apology to the patient.
In Massachusetts, a new law allows physicians to disclose a medical error, apologize for it, and make a financial offer to the patient. The apology cannot be used against the physician in court as an admission of liability. Massachusetts is piloting this program in seven hospitals.2
Components of the program include:
- A cooling-off period of 182 days to give both sides time to negotiate
- Full disclosure and apologies to patients when mistakes occur
- Investigating why the mistake occurred and how to prevent it in the future
- Financial compensation, if appropriate
- The patient's right to consult an attorney to evaluate the offer or take further action
Rather than having physicians view patients as the enemy, this program lets doctors and patients work together to see how to fix the system to prevent incidents.
Since the University of Michigan Health System instituted its system, litigation costs have dropped by $2 million a year, and medical liability costs have decreased 40 percent. Stanford University School of Medicine reported that its hospitals and clinics saved $3.2 million in premiums in 2011 through its medical apology program.3
Wojcieszak advises healthcare workers who are concerned about being sued when they make a mistake to avoid the urge to avoid the patient. Remaining connected and offering an apology shows that you're trying to fix things.
Does your facility have a policy/program in place for apologizing when there has been a mistake in patient care?
- Good Results for Medical Error Disclosure, Apology Programs
- Mass. Tries 'Open, Transparent' Approach to Malpractice Claims
- Massachusetts hospitals launch patient apology program