U of Michigan sees dramatic malpractice savings by saying 'sorry'

In most cases, when doctors or hospitals realize they have a malpractice problem on their hands, their first instinct is is to throw up a protective wall of silence to protect themselves legally--even if they'd prefer, as human beings, to apologize for whatever went wrong.
At one health system, however, despite all fears to the contrary, doing the decent thing seems to be paying off financially and legally.

Over the past several years, malpractice claims against the University of Michigan Health System have fallen from 121 in 2001 to 61 in 2006. Between 2001 and 2007, costs per claims were halved, insurance reserves dropped by two-thirds and the average time to process a claim fell from about 20 months to about eight months, according to a new journal article written by the school's chief risk officer and three colleagues.

To pull off this change, the school has developed an open culture in which leaders learn of possible medical errors not only from patients or their lawyers, but also the doctors themselves. In each case, the university does a peer review to see if there was indeed an error and to learn if anything should be changed in its processes.

Then, health system doctors and officials meet with patients and their families, and if they believe an error truly did occur, admit what took place and apologize.

Legal experts say other health systems and hospitals could benefit from the University of Michigan's approach, but that few are likely to try it unless a national shield law is put in place which excludes apologies as being used as evidence in malpractice suits. Several states have already put such laws into place.

To learn more about the U of Michigan's success:
- read this Associated Press article

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