A recently published study in Annals of Internal Medicine (2010;153:213-221) shows that taking responsibility for medical errors and apologizing to patients leads to fewer lawsuits. The study looked at the University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) which in 2001 instituted a new claims-management program which required health-care workers to disclose mistakes to patients and family, explaining how the mistakes were made and who made them. Cases of medical errors are then put through an internal inquiry and if it is determined that a clinician is responsible for an injury caused by the mistake, the UMHS discloses this to the patient and offers the patient or family financial compensation.

Researchers looked at claims between 1995 and 2007 (spanning when the program was implemented), and included the number of new claims, the number of claims paid, the time it took to resolve the claims and the costs involved. Results indicated that the number of lawsuits decreased under this program – from a monthly rate of 2.13 to 0.75 per 100,000 patient encounters. New claims decreased from a monthly 7.03 per 100,000 patient encounters to 4.52. Both the time it took to resolve the claims and the legal costs involved also decreased.

In a UMHS press release, Richard C. Boothman, JD, Chief Risk Officer at the university and a co-author of the study, says the research proves that a policy of full disclosure of errors does not appear to lead to skyrocketing medical costs, as had been feared. “This shows that over time, hospitals can afford to do the right thing,” Boothman said. “It demonstrates what we have believed to be true for some time: the sky won’t fall in by pursuing a proactive and honest approach to medical mistakes.”