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Traditionally, healthcare providers have followed a “defend and deny” approach to medical errors. Medical professionals accused of mistakes usually would remain silent out of fear that an apology or admission of error would result in legal fees and an unwinnable medical malpractice lawsuit.

But research shows that full disclosure and apologizing for errors do not lead to higher legal expenses or the filing of additional lawsuits against medical professionals, according to a report in The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Illinois.

The same report explores how some hospitals in Illinois are moving away from the defend-and-deny approach. They are adopting “communication and resolution” programs in which they disclose errors and apologize to victims and families.

In a move that our attorneys certainly welcome, healthcare providers with these programs are fully explaining what went wrong, regardless of whether negligence played a part or lawsuits have been filed.

The programs include a process to determine who was responsible and an investigation into what can be done to prevent errors or harm from happening again. According to the SJR, the process allows for financial compensation to victims and surviving family members.

1999 Study Highlighted Need for Communication

The improvement in communication between healthcare providers and patients and families stems from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” according to the SJR. The 1999 report concluded that 98,000 patients die annually in hospitals across the country from preventable medical errors.

The SJR quoted Tom Gallagher, a doctor who runs the Collaborative for Accountability and Improvement in Seattle. “The patients really want an open approach,” he said.

About 15 percent of healthcare institutions have adopted formal programs opening up communication about medical errors, Gallagher said.

The SJR reported that HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield has adopted the “communication and resolution” program. The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Gurpreet Mander, said letting patients and their families know about mistakes and apologizing for the errors is “the right thing to do,” according to the newspaper report. He said the risk of additional lawsuits or higher legal costs did not factor into the creation of the program.

“It’s never easy having difficult conversations,” Mander told the SJR. “But at the end of the day, you have to take care of the patient and the family.”

Not all healthcare institutions have made positive changes to assist victims and their families when things go wrong. Unfortunately, some still dig in their heels with the defend-and-deny approach when a medical error results in an injury or unexpected death.

If you or a loved one was harmed by a healthcare provider, you will need a knowledgeable attorney fighting for you. You may have grounds for a negligence or medical malpractice claim. Contact us at Deratany & Kosner. We offer free and confidential consultations.

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