Our medical malpractice attorneys in Chicago have frequently criticized the prevailing medical culture, which encourages doctors and hospitals to deny when medical errors are made, fighting even disclosures about what occurred in the hope of avoiding lawsuits and heightened scrutiny. As we have often said, such irresponsible and callous conduct does not decrease lawsuits and liability. To the contrary, such conduct often merely angers victims and their families and weakens the practice of medicine, making a prolonged conflict or a lawsuit more likely.
Recent research has confirmed our position. A recent study by the University of Michigan Health System, Brigham and Women’s Hospital of Boston (funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine) shows that medical malpractice claims can be greatly reduced when doctors and hospitals engage in proper conduct after a medical mistake had occurred. In the study, doctors and staff members were encouraged to do the following after committing a medical error or otherwise engaging in medical malpractice:
- tell the patient and/or his family that the error had occurred;
- tell the patient and/or his family how the error was made and who made it;
- tell the patient and/or his family what was being done to prevent the error from occurring again;
- apologize sincerely to the patient and/or his family; and
- offer to fairly compensate the patient and/or his family.
To non-medical professionals, these simple steps seem incredibly commonsense and basic. Yet our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that they are rarely taken. But, as the study demonstrated, when these simple protocols are followed, lawsuits and liability exposure declined – there were half as many medical malpractice lawsuits, nearly thirty percent fewer compensation claims, disputes were resolved faster, administrative and legal costs were reduced by an incredible sixty-one percent.
However, total compensation paid to victims declined, as well. This may be because hospitals have secured settlements from medical malpractice victims before they have met with an experienced malpractice attorney, who can give the patient and his or her family an idea as to the value of the case. Therefore, our fear is that hospitals will begin to use predatory tactics to settle with medical malpractice victims for pennies on the dollar, before they have had a chance to appreciate the significance of their injuries.
For better or worse, a similar protocol is spreading to the major Chicago hospitals. The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago has developed a “seven pillars” approach to dealing with medical errors. Much like the University of Michigan protocols, the seven pillars center around discovering and openly acknowledging medical errors, and then compensating victims and families promptly when appropriate.
Our medical malpractice attorneys applaud the University, its researchers and doctors, on their important and courageous first step. Responsible and respectful protocols like the seven pillars approach are an important step towards restoring the confidence of the American people in our hospitals and physicians, and restoring the integrity of the medical profession.
The University has received a three-year, $3 million demonstration grant from the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to implement the seven pillars approach at nine other Chicago-area hospitals. The project will begin at five hospitals, expanding to four more after the first eighteen months. Specifically, the researchers from the University will look at each of the hospitals to determine how implementing the project impacts the total number of medical errors, the number and seriousness of medical error claims made against the hospitals, and the total compensation and costs incurred by the hospitals related to medical errors. They hope to publish the results in the next two years.
The University of Illinois Medical Center has naturally already implemented its own program, pre-grant. In the time since implementation, the Center has identified 56 cases of medical error – 55 of which were settled out-of-court in accordance with the protocol.
The seven pillars project is among twenty grants for demonstration and planning projects nationwide. These twenty grants contain a total of $25 million in federal funds, and are administered as part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Patient Safety and Medical Liability Initiative.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.