Mass. hospitals rethink medical error response

A program at Massachusetts hospitals makes the post-medical error apology process more transparent, according to New England Public Radio.

Traditionally, Bay State hospitals have responded to errors--the third-leading cause of death in the United States--with the "deny and defend" strategy, according to the article. But that strategy rarely gives patients or doctors closure or improves patient safety, said Evan Benjamin, M.D., who oversees patient safety at Springfield's Baystate Medical Center.

"There was really quiet about what happened," Benjamin told NEPR. "And the only way for patients to get attention around what they believe[d] was a medical error was to sue the organization."

This led Benjamin and his colleagues to explore different approaches to give error victims and their families what they really want. "They want to know what happened, and how they're going to be cared for. They want an apology," he said. "They want to know what's been learned so it won't happen again. And finally … they'd like to understand about compensation for experiencing a medical error."

Last year, Baystate collaborated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston on a new initiative to address these concerns, the CARe (communication, apology, resolution) program based on an approach developed by the University of Michigan. Administrators at Baystate spent the past 14 months reviewing cases in which care did not go as planned and determined six of 100 cases warranted an apology and resolution.

Benjamin and Baystate declined to comment on how many resolutions involved monetary compensation or provide contact information for patients and doctors involved in errors, according to the article. As part of the CARe program, families who accept the resolution must agree not to sue the hospital, Baystate officials told NEPR.

Part of what keeps medical errors high is a "culture of perfection" within healthcare, Danielle Ofri, M.D., author of "What Doctors Feel--How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine," said at TEDMED 2014 in the District of Columbia. In addition, fear of malpractice lawsuits is a major obstacle to error reporting, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article

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