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A "Disclosure Movement" Among Doctors

Medical malpractice defense lawyers who counsel doctors, hospitals and insurers have been saying for years to "deny and defend" against any and all charges of medical malpractice, including obvious mistakes in medical care. Now, however, a growing "disclosure movement" takes a new approach — admit the mistake or substandard care to the patient, and offer an earnest apology plus fair compensation. 

Disclose, Apologize, Offer Compensation

Although malpractice defense firms have always warned their clients that admitting to a mistake or even expressing regret is the surest route to being sued, a small number of respected medical facilities — including Stanford and Johns Hopkins — are suggesting that a better approach is to promptly disclose an error, apologize for it, offer compensation and try to restore the relationship with the patient. 

Denial Can Be Worse Than the Mistake

As patients' attorneys have pointed out, their clients are often less angered by a physician's mistake than by the concealing of the mistake. In addition, patients are concerned that the mistake will happen again to others. 

The University of Michigan Health System was one of the first medical systems to experiment with full disclosure. After the UMich system adopted a full-disclosure policy, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits and existing claims dropped from 262 in 2001 to 83 in 2007. 

Fewer Lawsuits, Less Costly

Richard C. Boothman, the University of Michigan Medical Center's chief, noted that "Improving patient safety and patient communication is more likely to cure the malpractice crisis than defensiveness and denial." He stressed that he could not conclude that the System's decline in lawsuits was due only to the full-disclosure policy; however, the UMich Medical Center's legal defense costs and the fund required to cover malpractice claims have both been reduced by two-thirds, and the time necessary to resolve medical malpractice cases has been cut by half.

(Source: The New York Times) 

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