Better communication vital to malpractice reform

When it comes to medical mistakes, saying sorry isn't easy.

In addition to malpractice threats, a punitive healthcare culture and communication failures remain barriers to honest, transparent disclosures of medical errors, The Boston Globe reported.

Hospitals must address poor communication. Oftentimes, patients are seeking information and understanding rather than blame and revenge, the article noted.

"In the beginning, all I wanted were answers," said Danielle Bellerose, who won a $7 million birth-injury malpractice award from at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "If someone had just talked to me, none of this ever would have happened," she told the Globe.

To prevent malpractice lawsuits, instead of just reacting to them, more states are implementing disclosure-and-offer programs to facilitate better communication between doctors and patients about suspected errors and ensuring apologies can't be used as evidence in court.

Such programs have already shown that saying sorry can cut legal costs, reduce malpractice suits and speed up closing times for claims. For example, under a disclosure, apology and offer program at the University of Michigan Health System, pre-suit claims and pending lawsuits dropped from 260 in July 2001 to now 100, while average legal expenses fell 50 percent since 1997. Open-to-close time for claims also dropped to 10 months from more than 20 months in 2001, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Providers and patients in Oregon may see similar tort reform. New proposed legislation, which has garnered broad support, aims to help doctors and patients address medical mistakes outside the courtroom with apologies and mediation, The Oregonian reported.

However, open communication is still lacking in healthcare: A new study found only 2 percent of the time, patients and their families hear about an error immediately after it happens.

For more:
- read the Globe article (subscription required)
- here's the Oregonian article