The conventional wisdom used to be that apologizing to a patient was like talking to a cop: Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. But a new trend may be demonstrating the truth of another aphorism: Honesty is the best policy.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, health-care providers are finding that candor pays off. The University of Michigan Health System started disclosing errors, and additionally offering apologies, several years ago. Since then, the number of pending claims and lawsuits against it has been more than halved, from 260 in July
2001 to fewer than 100 in January 2007.
Crittenden’s Medical Insurance News reports that more than 18 states have passed apology laws protecting a doctor’s remorse from being used at trial. Crico/RMF, a malpractice insurance provider affiliated with Harvard Medical School in Boston, has produced a training course that promotes an “understanding [of] the importance of disclosure, apology, communication, and trust, as well as the patient’s feelings of isolation, anger, and frustration after a medical error occurs.”
The course’s centerpiece is “When Things Go Wrong,” a training film on DVD in which patients and families who have suffered from medical errors tell their stories and offer suggestions for better com-munication between patients and professionals.
“We need to shock doctors out of their complacency about what’s happening from a patient’s perspective,” Crico/RMF’s chief medical officer Luke Sato told the newspaper.
The DVD, training manual and an annotated bibliography are available at the Crico/RMF Web site, rmf.harvard.edu. The Sorry Works! Coalition, an early advocate of candor, continues to promote disclosure and apologies in pilot state programs and with insurance companies. Nearly 80 health-care institutions across the country have adopted the program. For more information, visit the organization’s Web site, www.sorryworks.net.