Owning Up to Errors May Actually Benefit Hospitals

The Wall Street Journal (“WSJ”) reports on a medical error case arising at Baptist Children’s Hospital in Miami.  An 18-month old child suffered a severe brain injury when her breathing tube became dislodged while she was under sedation for an MRI.  The hospital quickly owned up to the mistake, settled the case with the family and immediately instituted new measures to prevent future similar mistakes.  Then, the hospital engaged the child’s parents in educational efforts with the medical staff to underscore he importance of patient safety.  They even went so far as producing a 15 minute video to internally educate the staff about the events leading to the child’s injury.  The mother of the child now serves as a community liaison on the hospital’s quality and patient safety committee.  The family did not sue the hospital.

In 2004, The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago set up a center for communication between staff and patients after harm occurs.  Since 2006, the center has had a policy of fully disclosing all medical errors, apologizing and quickly offering a financial settlement.  In the last 4 years since the program has been in effect, lawsuits against the hospital are down by 40% even though the number of procedures had increased by 23% during the same time period.  According to a hospital spokesperson, these numbers certainly demonstrate, at the very least, that full disclosure did not cause an increase in lawsuits or payouts, and at the most, likely diminished them significantly.

                According to the WSJ, these full disclosure policies represent a sharp departure from hospitals’ traditional response when something goes terribly wrong---retreating behind a wall of silence to guard against potential lawsuits.  According to the parents of the injured 18 month old in Miami, the hospital’s candor helped them move past the initial shock. Moreover, the hospital’s dedication to fixing the problems that led to their daughter’s injury helped the family form a bond with the staff and forgive the unintentional harm. 

 

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