By staff reporters http://www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org
[What they are – How they work]
To deal with the aftermath of medical errors, an increasing number of providers are encouraging injured patients to participate in “medical apology programs.”
The idea, proponents say, is for patients to meet with facility representatives to learn what happened and why. It gives the patient a chance to ask questions and it gives providers a chance to apologize, and as appropriate, offer compensation. These programs are promoted as humanitarian, and, at least in terms of providing an emotional outlet for patients, they are.
The evidence also suggests that they are about something else: money. Every aspect of how they operate – from who risk managers involve, to what those involved are told to say – suggests a key goal is to dissuade patients from seeking compensation by creating an emotional connection with them.
The data establishes that it works, too.
A 2010 study found that at one major facility, apology programs resulted in fewer injured patients making claims and, among those that did, they accepted a fraction of the amount in settlement compared to patients who made claims before the program was instituted.
For minor injuries, no real harm is done by this; but the outcome can be cataclysmic for seriously injured patients who accept an apology in lieu of compensation.
Doug Wojcieszak, owner of the advocacy group Sorry Works, [http://sorryworkssite.bondwaresite.com] often receives requests to teach doctors how to communicate after a problem. He became interested in the topic when his older brother died at age 39 from a medical error. While losing his brother was awful, the experience was compounded by a total lack of communication and accountability afterward.
Curiously, when an attorney suspects that he has committed legal malpractice, he must disclose it to the client and recommend that the client seek outside counsel to get objective legal advice on how to proceed. By contrast, when a doctor suspects that he has committed medical malpractice, at many facilities he is expected to employ a set of protocols that discourage the injured patient from considering the need for compensation. Yet, while an attorney could be disbarred for this sort of behavior, medical apology programs widely receive praise.
Source: Gabriel H. Teninbaum JD: Suffolk University Law School-Chapman Law Review Research Paper 11-30.
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