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When Doctors Admit Mistakes, Fewer Malpractice Suits Result, Study Says
Date:8/17/2010

By Jenifer Goodwin
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- When doctors make mistakes, admitting the error, saying "I'm sorry" and offering compensation may go a long way toward preventing malpractice lawsuits, new research shows.

In 2001, University of Michigan Health System launched a program encouraging health workers to report medical mistakes. The program included a procedure for telling patients and their families about errors; explaining who made the error, how it occurred and what steps were taken to prevent a similar mistake in the future; making a sincere apology to the patient or their family; and offering fair compensation for harm when at fault.

The result was a reduction in the number of lawsuits and other compensation claims, a faster resolution of disputes and lowered legal costs overall.

Traditionally, doctors and risk managers have feared that admitting fault invites lawsuits and amounts to handing over a "blank check" to attorneys, explained study author Allen Kachalia, medical director of quality and safety at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

"Lots of people say that if we do the right thing and disclose errors, malpractice claims and liability will ruin it," Kachalia said. "What our findings show is it can be done, and in fact, liability costs and claims actually got better."

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health System, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and colleagues analyzed records on 1,131 malpractice claims, or requests for compensation due to medical error, between 1995 and 2007, which covered several years before and after the program was implemented.

After health care providers began admitting mistakes, apologizing and offering compensation, the monthly rate for new claims fell from just over seven per 100,000 patient encounters to 4.52 per 100,000, or 36 percent.

The average monthly rate of malpractice lawsuits filed agains
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