Hospitals increasingly are creating policies that encourage doctors who make medical mistakes to apologize to patients.
In the past, physicians have been "too proud, too afraid of malpractice lawsuits and too worried about losing face" to make apologies, reports the Chicago Tribune. The movement is supported by industry groups such as the Joint Commission, formerly known as the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and the National Quality Forum.
Some physicians contend that admission of errors will make it easier for patients to file law suits against them and hospitals, while others say that an apology and compensation for injuries will reduce the probability of a costly suit.
More than 30 states have passed "apology laws" that prevent apologies for medical errors from being used in court. Democratic presidential candidates Sens Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have proposed legislation that would promote disclosure to reduce malpractice lawsuits. The Department of Veterans Affairs and facilities affiliated with Harvard Medical School have policies in place that encourage staff to disclose errors and explain how they will prevent such errors in the future.
Steven Kraman, who helped develop the disclosure program at the Lexington VA Medical Center in Kentucky, said that admitting errors is a way for hospitals to learn from mistakes and develop ways to ensure they do not happen again.
During the first year of its disclosure policy, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center had one malpractice claim filed among 40 acknowledged errors. UIC CEO John DeNardo said, "The best way to approach this is to own up to the fact that an incident happened and ask what can we do to fix it and make the situation better."