Saying ‘sorry’ pays off for doctors
side note: Saying ‘Sorry’ Pays Off for Doctors in Time, Feelings and Medical Malpractice Insurance Premiums: At the University of Michigan Health System, where lawyers and doctors say admitting mistakes up front and offering compensation before being sued have brought about remarkable savings in money, time and feelings, apologizing for errors is no longer taboo.
by DAVID N. GOODMAN
DETROIT – When a treatment goes wrong at a U.S. hospital, fear of a lawsuit usually means “never daring to say you’re sorry.”
That’s not the way it works at the University of Michigan Health System, where lawyers and doctors say admitting mistakes up front and offering compensation before being sued have brought about remarkable savings in money, time and feelings.
“What we are doing is common decency,” said Richard Boothman, a veteran malpractice defense lawyer and chief risk officer for a health system with 18,000 employees and a $1.5 billion annual budget.
Officials at the University of Michigan say their approach addresses doctor, patient and public concerns.
The willingness to admit mistakes goes well beyond decency and has proved a shrewd business strategy, according to a 2009 article in the “Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law” by Boothman and four colleagues at the Ann Arbor school.
According to Boothman, malpractice claims against his health system fell from 121 in 2001 to 61 in 2006, while the backlog of open claims went from 262 in 2001 to 106 in 2006 and 83 in 2007. Between 2001 and 2007, the average time to process a claim fell from about 20 months to about eight months, costs per claim were halved and insurance reserves dropped by two-thirds.