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Spotlight: a new response model to medical malpractice acts

Doctors -- especially surgeons -- across the country, from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, are often not particularly amenable to listening about patients' gripes concerning the medical care they've received.

That especially concerns allegations of medical malpractice, in which surgeons and their medical facilities often respond to complaints of hospital negligence by quickly putting up a preventive barrier that isolates them from a complaining patient.

That, says one critic, automatically ensures what most hospital administrators and their legal staffs want to avoid most. Specifically, that is an adversarial relationship in which a patient who strongly feels that he or she has suffered medical harm will become more likely to commence a lawsuit to obtain justice and a legal remedy.

Medical administrators at the University of Michigan Health System implemented a new response system about 10 years ago to deal with alleged acts of medical error that is underscored by candid communication between a doctor and patient regarding the latter's complaints.

The system -- which encourages a dispassionate atmosphere, apology where one is deemed necessary, a change in treatment or remedial care when it is warranted, and the offer of a financial settlement in some instances to avoid protracted litigation -- flatly works, say those who implemented it.

A number of hospitals in Massachusetts are now taking a similar vein, with an initiative they call the "Road Map to Reform."

Not everyone is an unquestioning fan. One plaintiff malpractice attorney notes, for example, that some patients might get inadequate compensation compared to what they could receive through formal litigation. Many others doubtless agree with that view.

It is tempered, though, as one patient's advocate says, "if a patient's rights are not limited in any way." Further, there is wide agreement among those concerned with patients' rights that any medical response system that encourages open discussion and disclosure of errors rather than hiding the ball and cutting off communication with patients is a good thing.

Source: Boston Globe, "One doctor's take on malpractice policy that calls for disclosure, apology, and often a settlement, "Chelsea Conaboy, April 23, 2012

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