July 18, 2012
By Rachel Lynn Wilson
Medical Malpractice lawsuits cost the system $54.4 billion per year, which is 2.4 percent of total health care spending. A large amount of medical malpractice awards are usurped by legal fees and administrative costs and thus do not end up with the injured patient. There is an urgent need for medical malpractice reform to ensure the patient receives a just reward, curb the rising cost of health care and foster better patient-centered outcomes.
Recent demonstrations at the University of Michigan, Ascension Health and several other hospital systems throughout the country have produced positive outcomes since adopting the Disclosure, Apology and Offer approach to medical liability. At the University of Michigan Health System, when a patient injury occurs the Health System immediately discusses the situation with the patient and family. Subsequently, the risk management department conducts an investigation into the injury and apologizes for the mistake. Finally, the Health System offers compensation if the investigation proves that a medical error caused the injury. The idea behind the “apology” approach is that better communication between doctors and patients will decrease health care costs and improve patient satisfaction. This initiative has fostered an atmosphere of communication and full disclosure and has enhanced the ability of the staff to learn from past experiences.
Since adopting the Disclosure, Apology and Offer method there have been fewer lawsuits, lower liability costs, less patient compensation and a faster resolution to claims. Specifically, it has cut litigation costs by $2 million per year and medical liability claims have decreased by 40 percent. The University of Michigan attributes some of the success of this program to the state of Michigan’s medical malpractice reform legislation which creates a mandatory 6 month “cooling-off” period during which both the plaintiff and the defendant must think about the case before going to court.
Now that many health systems have shown that apologizing for their mistakes rather than jumping into a litigation battle lowers health care costs, we are forced to wonder why more are not adopting this technique. Is there some sort of legislation that the state or federal government could adopt that would encourage other hospitals to try the “apology” approach? This approach has garnered some support from the American Medical Association due to its positive impact on reducing costs and improving care. Without at least tacit approval, however, from groups such as the Trial Lawyers Association, it will be difficult to pass legislation that encourages any sort of malpractice reform. In the meantime, we can hope that more hospital systems will take the initiative to adopt an “apology” approach and begin to change the medical malpractice culture.
Rachel Lynn Wilson is currently a rising second year at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, OH. During the 2011-2012 school year, Rachel participated in a Health Law Competition at the Loyola University-Chicago focused on the Affordable Care Act and specifically Accountable Care Organization development. Rachel graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2010 with a Bachelors of Science in Political Science and Spanish. During the 2007-2008 school year she published two papers on the effects of chemotherapy treatment on metastatic lung cancer with Dr. David Reisman, M.D. Ph.D. She loves running, traveling, shopping and attending sporting events.