Globe: New approach to medical errors takes hold

Doctors generally don’t admit to or apologize for even the most obvious medical mistakes. For the most part, they’ve never been allowed to. Blame it on those nasty malpractice lawyers who will use it against the doc in court. Or blame it on the hospital lawyers, who need to protect the institution, even if it means not sharing the facts with patients.

So, the Globe reports on an idea that’s been kicking around for a while called DAO – Disclose, Apologize and Offer. Championed at the University of Michigan, the system encourages doctors to admit to and apologize for medical errors and offer settlements as a way to keep the cases out of court.

In most states, anything that sounds like an apology can be used against a doctor in potential malpractice lawsuit. A survey by Harvard researchers identified one barrier to the new approach as “physician discomfort with disclosure and apology.” Still  risk management lawyers at Harvard hospitals issued a consensus statement endorsing the concept six years ago. The Mass Medical Society has been  looking for ways to promote the approach beyond Harvard. A local non-profit that runs support groups for doctors and patients — Medically Induced Trauma Support Services  — is also involved in the effort. And, Gov. Deval Patrick’s pending costs containment bill includes a provision that would make apologies inadmissible in malpractice cases.

Hints that the idea is taking hold emerged in a Globe story last year story on a lawsuit over a fatal overdose of blood thinner contains this statement from Mass General.

A spokeswoman for Massachusetts General Hospital said in a statement yesterday that the hospital regrets the error, and “our hearts go out to Mrs. Oswald’s family.’’

“As soon as we understood what had happened, we apologized and explained the situation to Mrs. Oswald’s family,’’ said (spokeswoman Peggy) Slasman. “We undertook a thorough and extensive internal review of the case, and we communicated with family members throughout this process. As a result of this event, we have made some specific changes to our practices to reduce the chance of such an event from occurring again.’’

In the Globe story Linda Kenney of the  Medically Induced Trauma Support Services welcomes the change, but advises patients to have a lawyer on hand  “to make sure the patient is getting what they are entitled to.’’

The medical malpractice insurers have tons of attorneys on retainer,’’ said Kenney, whose group belongs to the new Massachusetts coalition.

And malpractice lawyer Andrew Meyer has this to say.  “For the most part, malpractice insurers are looking for a discount from fair compensation’’ by making an early offer, Meyer said. But “if a patient’s rights are not limited in any way, I have no issue with an attempt at early resolution. Cases just drag on for years.’’

More here.

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