New malpractice process benefits physicians, victims

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Research about the nuances of medical malpractice is consistently revealing physicians’ reluctance to talk to their patients about the mistakes they make. Doctors may be afraid that their patients will file malpractice lawsuits, but an increasing body of scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that simply discussing the errors could save millions in damages each year.

Instead, current practice encourages victims and physicians to remain silent about the mistakes, which is driving up the price of medical mistakes to unfathomable heights.

Some hospitals are instituting new systems that would allow malpractice claims to be reviewed by impartial medical advisers rather than being immediately sourced to defense attorneys. That quick review process would allow providers to apologize to their victims face-to-face, rather than waiting for litigation to proceed. Additionally, hospitals could offer quicker response times, providing cash settlements that could be used to fix the medical error faster and with less agony for both parties.

The early offer program has so far worked well for both patients and providers. Participants cite cases in which mistakes have been rectified in person, providing a more caring and compassionate legal process. This system seems to be more effective than the traditional litigation strategy, which requires both parties to prepare for battles in the courtroom. One woman whose breast cancer was misdiagnosed said she was happy with the process’s results. She felt as though her opinions had been heard and her suffering was validated. The woman left the mediation with a $400,000 settlement just months after her suit, rather than waiting years for a potential courtroom let-down.

Research also shows that, contrary to many doctors’ beliefs, frivolous lawsuits are not a huge economic problem within the industry. Most malpractice suits are filed after legitimate suffering caused by medical mistakes, according to scientists. Only about 2 percent of patients harmed by malpractice ever file a claim.

In all, experts say that physicians should take malpractice concerns seriously, both in an emotional and a financial sense.

Source: The Boston Globe, “Medical malpractice: Why is it so hard for doctors to apologize” Darshak Sanghavi, Jan. 27, 2013