Hospitals Find Openness About Mistakes Improves Safety, Reduces Lawsuits

"Medical errors kill as many as 98,000 Americans each year," writes Laura Landro in the Wall Street Journal's "Informed Patient" column. "Now, some hospitals are hoping to stem the tide of lawsuits by being more open with aggrieved patients and their families. While some experts warn that disclosure will lead to an increase in litigation and costs, there are some indications that patients are less likely to sue if they receive full disclosure and an apology, along with an offer of compensation."

In one case, an infant girl bumped her head. Her mother took her to the emergency room at Baptist Children's Hospital in Miami, where she was sedated to keep still for an MRI. While sedated, a breathing tube became dislodged. The child suffered a "crippling brain injury." After settling with the family, the hospital used the episode as a case study for improving processes and preventing future errors. They also recruited the child's parents as spokespeople for the improvement effort, and the girl's mother is a community liaison for the "quality-and-patient-safety committee" (Landro, 8/25).

According to a related Wall Street Journal Health Blog post, also by Landro, other hospitals are replicating this type of effort. For instance, University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago recently "created a consultation service to help staffers communicate quickly with patients and families about safety incidents; in 2006 that evolved into a policy of full disclosure, apology and a swift offer of financial compensation (8/24).

This is part of Kaiser Health News' Daily Report - a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. The full summary of the day's news can be found here and you can sign up for e-mail subscriptions to the Daily Report here. In addition, our staff of reporters and correspondents file original stories each day, which you can find on our home page.