Hospital apologies, communication programs gain steam

Historically, "sorry" is often the hardest word for hospitals culpable for medical errors. But with deaths from such errors reaching a fever pitch, providers increasingly abandon the adversarial relationship they've often had with the victims of such errors in favor of programs that focus on resolution and communication, according to The Wall Street Journal.

For example, Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California, long ago adopted what it has dubbed the Pearl (Process for Early Assessment, Resolution and Learning) program, the newspaper reported. Under Pearl, the victims of medical errors receive apologies, full explanations of how the error occurred, a waiver so they don't have to pay their medical bills, and financial settlements as an alternative to costly lawsuits.  

Aside from Stanford and a few other larger medical centers, many hospital leaders have been wary of adopting such practices, particularly settling with patients when they're not certain the alternative is fighting a suit. Now, however, pressure to improve both outcomes and transparency, as well as evidence that the approach cuts costs and improves patient safety, has many changing their tunes.

For example, Massachusetts hospitals have increasingly abandoned the "deny and defend" strategy in favor of communication/resolution programs, although hospital officials did not specify the role of financial settlements in their approach, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Other nations have done away with the malpractice system altogether in favor of more transparent approaches. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has funded similar demonstration programs, according to the WSJ, and federal guidance for creating such initiatives is in the works.

"Sometimes we recognize that patients need to heal and need answers, and even if we aren't obligated to provide compensation, it is still the right thing to do and we want to make them as whole as possible," Jeffrey Driver, CEO of the Risk Authority Stanford, which provides risk-management services to Stanford hospitals, told the WSJ.

In situations where the hospital CEO feels the need to personally apologize, they should make sure to take steps to be as sincere as possible, including specifically saying "I'm sorry" and vowing not to let it happen again, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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