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Hospitals Try Apologies to Prevent Lawsuits After Medical Mistakes

Patients in Illinois who were injured due to the negligence of a medical professional could soon be exposed to a new approach being tested on the East Coast.


Several hospitals in Massachusetts have agreed to adopt an apology program with the goal of decreasing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. The hospitals hope a doctor's apology for mistakes will make patients less likely to sue.

The program first came to light several months ago when some hospitals developed the Disclosure, Apology and Offer initiative. The main idea of the program is that as soon as a medical professional realizes a mistake had been made, he or she discusses it with the patient and then investigates what went wrong. If the hospital discovers that it is to blame, the hospital makes a formal apology and offers financial compensation.

Although patients could still choose to sue if they wanted to, the three participating hospitals have found that the program greatly reduces the amount of malpractice lawsuits against each hospital. With proven success for the first three hospitals, several more hospitals are catching on and joining the program. Medical boards and hospitals all over the country are interested in financial savings through the program.

However, critics say the program undercuts patient rights. Opponents of the program believe the hospitals are not fairly compensating the patient. In many settlement cases, patients were not offered what might have been fair compensation for their injuries. Patients may be overly impressed by what seems like a hospital's honesty and integrity. As a result, they may fail to recognize that the hospital is underpaying the amount needed for just compensation for an injury that should never have happened.

Some patients may be won over by an apology. But in many cases, when a hospital mistake has seriously injured a patient, an apology is simply not enough, even if coupled with minimal compensation.

Source: "Law Professor: Medical Apology Might Manipulate Patients," Sacha Pfeiffer and Lynn Jolicoeur, WBUR, 5-1-12

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