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What happens when a doctor apologizes for a medical error?

Medical errors can result in serious injury to patients. Some hospitals are promoting a candid conversation about these errors, and finding success.

Medical errors are a big problem in the United States. A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that there are approximately 250,000 patient deaths resulting from medical errors throughout the country every single year. As a result of this data, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., just behind cancer and heart disease.

Research like this is important, as it can translate to an increase in funding to address the issue. In this case, there is hope that the findings will lead to increased scrutiny of the way medical errors are handled within hospitals.

Research translating to reality: Are hospitals changing the way they address medical errors?

In some cases, the answer is yes. Some hospitals are putting in the effort to address this issue. One example currently getting attention from the media is a program out of the University of Michigan. This program, named the Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) program, pushes for transparency by encouraging hospitals and medical professionals to respond to medical errors in a timely and thorough manner.

The program generally includes a conversation with the patient about the error combined with a discussion about reasonable compensation from the medical institution to help cover the costs associated with the resulting injury. This could include rehabilitation and the cost of needed medical devices like a wheel chair and wheel chair accessible vehicle.

Reality by the numbers: Are programs like CANDOR successful?

A recent article in the Washington Post discussed whether or not transparency and responsibility is successful in medical institutions. Critics voiced concerns that the process would result in increased litigation, as patients that may not otherwise be aware of the fact that a medical error was responsible for their injury.

The article points out that these concerns do not appear to be an issue. It shared the stories of two patients, both injured by medical errors. One patient was stonewalled by physicians and medical professionals when she questioned what went wrong during a hysterectomy that resulted in her being in a coma for weeks. No one would provide answers. No one would explain the issue. The other story involved a patient that was openly approached by his physician who was responsible for the error. The doctor apologized and the medical facility worked with the patient to provide compensation that was reasonable for the injury. The patient in this situation states that his hospital did the right thing. Although he acknowledges that he did not receive compensation to cover all the suffering associated with the injury, he has enough to help ensure his financial stability.

According to the article, hospitals that implement programs like the one used for the later patient are reporting success. These hospitals have fewer lawsuits and litigation costs are cut by millions – but more importantly, the quality of care given to patients increases.