August 17, 2010—A study published today in theAnnals of Internal Medicine (Ann Intern Med 2010;153(4):213-21 ) reveals that a University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) program of full disclosure and compensation for medical errors resulted in a decrease in new claims for compensation (including lawsuits), time to claim resolution, and lower liability costs.
The study’s researchers reviewed and analyzed claims at UMHS from 1995 to 2007 to determine how the program, launched in 2001, affected claims and costs.
“The decrease in claims and costs may be attributed to a number or combination of factors,” according to Allen Kachalia, MD, JD, lead study author and Medical Director of Quality and Safety at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He says, “We found a 61% decrease in spending at the UMHS on legal defense costs, and this supports the possibility that patients may be less likely to file lawsuits when given prompt transparency and an offer of compensation.”
Richard C. Boothman, chief risk office at the University of Michigan and one of the study’s coauthors, says, “This shows that over time, hospitals can afford to do the right thing. It demonstrates what we have believed to be true for some time: The sky won’t fall in by pursuing a proactive and honest approach to medical mistakes.”
Boothman adds that changing the culture to encourage caregivers to admit mistakes also has improved patient safety. He says, “We support our staff best by being honest about mistakes because without that honesty, we’ll never fix the problem, other patients may get hurt, and we’ll expose our staff to that heartbreak again, too. Honesty is the key to improving, and hurting no one else is the best risk management I can imagine.”