Studies have shown that when physicians apologize to patients for errors or unfortunate results, patients are less likely to sue and are more likely to have a more positive take on the event. Now, seven healthcare systems in Massachusetts will be formally piloting a new project to attempt to resolve medical liability issues without a trial.

One of the hospitals, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., began a successful disclosure and apology initiative four years ago. The formal pilot – called “Roadmap to Reform” – will include Baystate as well as hospitals from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Roadmap to Reform is being led by the Massachusetts Medical Society, which received a federal grant in 2010 to create the program. Program goals include improving patient safety, increasing transparency and trust, reducing litigation, and cutting costs to healthcare systems.

The Roadmap to Reform model is based on Disclosure, Apology and Offer (DA&O) – full disclosure of what happened, why, and what will be done to prevent it from happening in the future; a sincere apology for events deemed avoidable; and a timely offer of compensation to resolve the issue.

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The process is relatively simple. Once a suspected error is reported, the hospital will conduct a root cause analysis to determine who was at fault. If fault on the part of a clinician or hospital policy is found, those responsible will be called on to apologize to the injured patient.

The hospital will then work with its malpractice insurance provider to determine what amount to offer the patient for injuries and/or follow-up care. The DA&O process does not prevent patients from taking legal action, but seeks to reduce lawsuits by resolving issues in a faster and less hostile manner. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health will be evaluating the results of the pilot program.