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Medical malpractice and the tragic sounds of silence

Researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that medical mistakes kill 251,000 Americans annually, ranking as the third leading cause of death in the country. Many who suffer injury or death are not only victims of malpractice, but also of hospitals’ standard operating procedures.

When errors occur, medical institutions routinely fail to promote transparency. The information they do provide is meant to defend the quality of their care through silence and denial of wrongdoing. Patients and their family members not only suffer the effects of physical injuries, but also emotional trauma when facts are kept from them.

Simply stated, the only way that victims and often their attorneys can find out what went wrong is to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The federal for Agency Healthcare Research and Quality is promoting a blueprint called Communication and Optimal Resolution. CANDOR, an appropriate acronym, is modeled on a longstanding program at the University of Michigan and tested in 14 hospitals nationwide.

The candor-centric program features the following:

  • Prompt investigations of errors
  • Findings being shared with victims
  • Formal apologies
  • Compensation for injuries

Resistance among medical professionals and defense attorneys was expected. Initial concerns centered on lawsuits being encouraged through this type of full disclosure. So far, statistics are showing the opposite to be true. In the first year of the program, Michigan saw a 50 percent reduction in medical malpractice suits while hospital systems saved approximately $2 million in litigation costs.

While cost savings is important, the primary goal of the program is to drive patient safety, according to Richard C. Boothman, the University of Michigan Health System’s executive director of clinical safety and chief risk officer,

“We need to hard-wire as quickly as possible the lessons of these cases.”