Gag Order/Confidentiality Project from Sorry Works! -- need your opinion
In a recent Sorry Works! e-blast about the toddler dying during a dental procedure, there was a quote from a dental professor claiming that most malpractice settlements have gag orders or confidentiality clauses. Here is the quote: "When there are malpractice suits, settlements often include a gag order that prohibits plaintiffs from talking about it, according to Dr. Joel Weaver, a dentist anesthesiologist and emeritus professor of the Ohio State University Medical Center. This touched a nerve with some readers, and, to be frank, I have heard numerous complaints about this topic over the last eleven years from both clinicians and consumers. Both sides basically saying the same thing, namely how can medicine improve and learn from events if we don't talk about lawsuits and closed claims? Many clinicians tell me they see or hear about adverse events, but then the lawyers sweep in, everybody clams up, and they (the clinicians) never find out what happened with a particular case. I have had countless nursing managers and front-line physicians state that cases literally disappear into a black hole. Conversely, patients and families feel threatened they will lose their home, savings, etc if they talk publicly about their cases.
How can we expect medicine to improve with such behavior?
Look, some estimates peg medical errors as the third leading cause of death (behind cancer and heart disease) in the United States. When it comes to cancer and heart disease we can't -- rightly -- stop talking about these villains. There are countless news stories and books about life and death with cancer or heart disease from the perspective of patients, families, and clinicians. There are Facebook pages, fundraisers, rallies, t-shirts, etc, etc. But medical errors? Eh, shove it under the rug!
I want Sorry Works! to work on this issue. Now, I do NOT envision lobbying for passage of laws, or asking for regulations to be changed. In fact, I don't want anything to do with out dysfunctional political system --- just look at the Presidential race! Sorry Works! has been successful over the years because we have completely side-stepped politics and, instead, focused on education and awareness which has shown healthcare professionals they can fix the malpractice crisis on their own with disclosure. I intend to do the same with gag order/confidentiality issue...show people why it is in their own best interest to change their behavior.
Here is where you come in: What are the arguments for maintaining the status quo? Why do lawyers and executives from hospitals and insurers insist on gag orders or confidentiality clauses? And really important question: How often are gag orders or confidentiality clauses inserted in settlements? Some lawyers have told me that gag orders or confidentiality clauses are simply another "check box" on the way to settlements that no one really thinks about...is this true? If you are a med-mal lawyer, what has been your experience with confidentiality clauses? Is this issue more urban legend than fact? Is this the monster under my six-year old's bed, or are gag orders a real problem that need to be addressed? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 618-559-8168. Your answers will be completely confidential.
Sorry Works! will publish a paper on this topic during the third week of July.