As Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers, we were very interested to see an article about a study saying there's some benefit and no risk when doctors disclose their mistakes to patients. American Medical News, a publication of the American Medical Association, reported Dec. 15 on a study by a team at George Mason University. Led by Lorens A. Helmchen, a professor of health administration and policy, the team polled adult patients in Illinois about whether they'd be more likely to sue, or more likely to recommend the hospital, if the hospital admitted a medical error and provided financial compensation. The results: patients said they'd be no more or less likely to sue, but would be twice as likely to recommend the health care provider. Helmchen said disclosure might improve patients' perception of the institution's quality.
Helmchen's team is working with the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality on a three-year project examining whether a disclosure and compensation model used in Michigan can work elsewhere. The University of Michigan has followed this model for nine years and discovered that it actually reduces litigation costs. This is the opposite of what many nursing homes, doctors and other health care providers tend to think, as Helmchen noted. The poll of 1,018 Illinois adults found that 27 percent would still consider filing a medical malpractice claim, if the institution responsible admitted the error and offered financial compensation. Helmchen said these results showed no evidence that admitting the error increased litigation. However, nearly 40 percent said they would still recommend the provider even after a mistake, if the mistake was disclosed and compensation was offered. And only 10 percent said they believed their doctors were likely to admit a mistake on their own.
Our Philadelphia injury lawyers aren't surprised. It seems clear to us that it's hard to trust people or institutions that you do not believe are willing to tell you the truth. Admitting a mistake goes a long way toward helping the victim of that mistake believe you are dealing with him or her honestly -- and doing the best you can to ensure it won't happen again. We find the same patterns in our work as Pennsylvania nursing home lawyers. Patients' families, and juries, understand that nursing homes are busy places and sometimes mistakes happen. But when homes try to cover up Pennsylvania nursing home abuse, neglect or serious mistakes, juries and families tend to see it as unwillingness to even recognize the problem, never mind make amends and try to protect others.