Death, whether inevitable or caused by preventable medical errors, happen every day at hospitals around the United States.

Unfortunately, very few hospitals have adopted best practices for dealing with complaints or even questions when they arise from either family members or caregivers.

Surveys have demonstrated that patients and their loved ones are more likely to pursue legal recourse if they believe there was a lack of accountability, disrespect or poor communication from their health care providers.

Recently a few hospital have developed nontraditional communication-and-resolution models that allow physicians and hospitals officials to immediately apologize, investigate and quickly offer financial compensation if a medical mistake occurred.

These types of initiatives have led to improved transparency and better physician-patient relationships as well as significant reductions in number of malpractice claims. Additionally these initiatives reduced the amount facilities spent on patient compensation.

The agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and other entities that encourage the use of these programs have funded research to supplement their success is documented in medical literature. However, despite favorable outcomes, the models have not become widespread.

Experts assert that a culture change is required to encourage doctors and hospital staff to speak up about potential issues without fear of punishment. Many health care organizations struggle to create this safety culture. Hospital officials have to implement formal processes for investigating complaints and reaching out to patients. The most important is that health care organizations abandon the deny-and-defend mentality that has been the status quo for decades.

These programs boost transparency and communication and are key to reducing medical liability claims which can potentially pose a substantial financial burden to health systems. According to a study in Health Affairs, medical liability claims totaled $56 billion in direct and defensive medicine costs, equal about 2.4% of overall healthcare spending.

Unfortunately the declining financial impact of medical malpractice claims may be slowing the widespread adoption of communication-and-resolution programs. However, most agree that the current system really needs to change.

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Gerry Oginski
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NY Medical Malpractice & Personal Injury Trial Lawyer
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