John McGillicuddy, M.D., Neurosurgeon with the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, MI, says many lawsuits against doctors and hospitals occur because patients and families feel they haven’t been treated fairly and have lost faith in the healthcare system. Sometimes it’s because patients haven’t been fully informed of the risks of a treatment or procedure. In other cases, it’s because healthcare providers don’t adequately communicate with the patient or family.
The University of Michigan Health System has developed a risk management program to deal with patient safety issues and medical errors. Instead of hiding mistakes or denying the incident, the hospital aims for full disclosure. First, before signing off on the consent form, patients must fully understand their diagnosis and treatment options, including potential risks or adverse effects of treatment. After surgery, the physician talks with the family to explain how everything went. If any problems have occurred, the surgeon offers an apology and explains what may have happened and how the hospital staff will proceed to correct the problem.
Chief Risk Officer, Rick Boothman, C.R.O., says that the hospital’s open policy has had important benefits for patients and healthcare providers. By offering honest and open communication, patients are less angry when a problem occurs and are more likely to understand the difficulty physicians have when making decisions or providing treatment. Families are also assured that a loved one will continue to receive care. For hospitals, the open, honest policy enables staff members to examine cases of mistakes and find ways to reduce or prevent the error in the future.