Recently, a team of doctors at a Michigan hospital formed an "I Am Sorry" team to speak to hospital patients and their families after a medical mistake is made by a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. The teams were created to increase transparency, improve upon hospital protocols, increase patient confidence, decrease medical malpractice lawsuits, and lower insurance premiums. The teams stand in stark contrast to the usual "deny and defend" mentality.
While the patient apology program is in place University of Michigan Health System, St. Joseph Mercy Health System, and the Henry Ford Health System, it has not made its way to Central New York hospitals such as Crouse Hospital, St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center, Community General Hospital, University Hospital (SUNY Upstate), Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare, or St. Elizabeth's Medical Center.
Typically, the process works as follows:
1. Patient or family are notified of hospital mistake within 24 hours.
2. Medical quality review team investigates medical error.
3. Apology is issued.
4. Compensation is offered if the mistake caused an injury, or time away from work.
5. Once a lawyer is hired, many hospitals will not share the apology or the cause for the mistake and revert to "deny and defend."
While this process is good for a hospital's bottom line, it does not serve the interests of the injured. Much like an insurance company that calls an injured worker the day after an accident and offers a nominal sum to resolve a case forever - without regard for the injured's future prognosis - it appears that hospital apologies are being used as a vehicle to secure de minimis settlements before a patient has time to digest the full extent of medical malpractice. As many of us are quick to accept an apology, i.e., forgive and forget, legal rights may be prematurely signed away on the heels of a heartfelt confession.
Doctors are human and they make mistakes. However, a medical mistake does not make a doctor a bad doctor, or a bad person. While a confession goes a long way toward restoring faith in the medical community after an error, it cannot bring back a lost loved one, turn back the clock on undiagnosed cancer, or reverse a newborn's hypoxic brain injury. Where medical mistakes cause permanent disability and financial loss, compensation is the only way to make a patient or family, to the extent possible, whole again.
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