Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on the all-too-common occurrence of medical errors and how hospitals are adopting innovative programs to not only compensate patients, but make strides in patient safety.
Medical errors kill as many as 98,000 Americans each year, according to the Institute of Medicine, a government advisory group. In an effort to improve this record, some hospitals like Baptist Children’s are taking steps to admit grievous mistakes and to learn from them in order to overhaul flawed procedures. That represents a sharp departure from hospitals’ traditional response when something goes terribly wrong—retreating behind a wall of silence to guard against potential lawsuits.
Research has shown that most injured patients just want to know what went wrong in the course of their treatment. When hospitals refuse to openly discuss medical errors, the civil justice system is often the only resource left.
As long as there are strict protocols to protect the legal rights of patients, these programs offer compelling ways to foster openness and defuse what is an emotional and difficult experience. However, for patients injured by clear negligence, saying "I’m sorry" does not repair physical disfigurement or relieve pain and suffering, and proper compensation must be provided. From the article:
"Sorry alone doesn’t work unless we learn from our mistakes," says Timothy McDonald, a pediatric anesthesiologist and chief safety officer at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. "We have to also make promises that this won’t happen again and get patients and families engaged in the effort to improve our performance."
Limiting the legal rights of patients will do nothing to cover the uninsured or lower health care costs. Eliminating medical errors and keeping patients safe will most certainly help accomplish these goals. And the article reports on one hospital in Illinois – which more openly discussed medical errors – saw their safety record improve while patients resorted to litigation less. Better safety not only lowers costs, but keeps patients safer!
AAJ has developed a primer on the role of medical negligence in the national health care debate, which can be viewed here.