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05 October 2017

Here's why hospitals should say 'sorry' when they are negligent

A US study found the chances of lawsuits and large payouts weren't higher when hospitals took responsibility for for their mistakes.

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A May 2017 News24 article reports that the Gauteng Health Department paid out more than R1bn to settle 185 medical negligence cases since January 2015.

Internationally the situation is no less shocking, and a number of studies have found that around 10% of all patients entering hospitals are harmed in one way or another, and 2% die because of a medical error.

Cause for concern is also the public perception that medical mistakes are commonplace.

A more positive note

On a more positive note,  however, a new US study found that hospitals that take responsibility for medical mistakes aren't at increased risk for lawsuits or more expensive settlements.

To come to that conclusion, researchers reviewed 989 medical mistakes that occurred at six hospitals in Massachusetts between 2013 and 2015. The hospitals were part of a programme that informs patients about medical errors, apologizes for them, pledges to investigate and correct the problem, and offers compensation.

Only 5% of the medical errors led to malpractice claims or lawsuits, according to the report. When the programme led to compensation, the median payment was $75,000 (±R1 020 000). In 2015, the median payment nationwide when plaintiffs won malpractice lawsuits was about $225,000 (±R3 062 000).

The study was published in the journal Health Affairs.

"Our findings suggest that communication-and-resolution programmes will not lead to higher liability costs when hospitals adhere to their commitment to offer compensation proactively," lead author Michelle Mello, a professor of health research and policy, and of law at Stanford University in California, and colleagues wrote.

'What can we learn?'

Medical errors are a leading cause of death in the United States, and the lawsuits they can trigger are a major concern for hospitals and doctors, the study authors noted.

Not only did the responsibility programme examined in the study reduce liability costs, it also led to major improvements in patient safety, the researchers said.

"In these programmes, hospitals scrutinise every serious harm event to answer the question, 'What can we learn?'" Mello said in a university news release. "Traditionally, a risk manager's focus has been on the patients who complain about the care or threaten to sue. But every patient deserves to know that what happened to them is being taken seriously."

Image credit: iStock

 
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