Many doctors have a hard time owning up to errors, in part due to fears of being sued over malpractice claims and the consequent increase in malpractice insurance premiums.  

However, the University of Michigan Health System’s (UMHS) approach, acknowledging mistakes and compensating patients up front, has reduced the number of malpractice cases and subsequent costs, according to the Associated Press.

In 2004, the university implemented a transparency concept in which the hospital admits mistakes, not only addressing patients’ concerns but also allowing doctors the freedom to learn from their mistakes.  

UMHS malpractice claims dropped from 121 in 2001 to 61 in 2006, two years after implementation of the policy, Richard Boothman, the system’s chief risk officer, told the AP.

Boothman and his colleagues, in a 2009 Journal of Health & Life Sciences Law article, state that people want to be informed of the bad news. When doctors will not disclose information regarding what is wrong, patients begin seeking legal counsel.

David Studdert, a law and public health expert at Harvard, is more reserved about this open approach, telling the wire service that only about 17 percent of people severely hurt by mistakes in U.S. hospitals seek compensation.  

“Many people do not sue, because they don’t discover they are victims of malpractice,” Studdert told the AP, going on to suggest that disclosure might cause U.S. malpractice costs to rise even higher than the current $5.8 billion per year.

Image of doctor and patients by deanm1974 via iStockphoto