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Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Question from Road: Confidential Settlement, or Not?

Question from Road: Confidential Settlements, or Not?

For far too long in med-mal, settlements have traditionally been no-fault and sealed up.  Don't want to talk about...take your money and go home.  Maddening for not only patients and families, but also clinicians who are hurting too post-event and need closure & healing.  Disaster for patient safety too.

After a recent Sorry Works! training seminar, a risk manager asked, "Do all settlements have to be confidential…is there ever a time we wouldn’t want them to be confidential?"

Now, I'm sure the lawyers in the crowd can provide a thousand and one reasons why settlements should be confidential….but I am going to give you my thoughts from a disclosure perspective, and you make up your mind.

When you disclose and admit fault, you reduce or even eliminate the anger felt by patients and families which can lead to faster and fairer settlements.  However,  often more important than the compensation (financial and otherwise) is the learning that can flow from the closure of these caess.  And what better way for people to learn than through stories?  Real stories about their colleagues and patients/families.  In fact, you can sometimes involve the participants themselves in the story telling phase.

Look at it another way: Confidential settlement or not, your staff is going to talk. Do you want to control these discussions and move the organization forward in a positive fashion, or let people swap rumors and further destroy the culture? Up to you.

Last thing to consider: Sometimes telling these stories in the public can actually increase the public's perception of your organization."Can you believe that hospital had the integrity to admit their mistakes?!  That's where I'm going in the future."   Happens all the time.  Get your PR people in the mix when it comes to disclosure.

The thoughts I have spelled out here argue that confidential settlements are not always your best bet.   In fact, keeping these cases "open" and learning from them should be the preferred route in the expanding world of disclosure.

Now, sometimes patients and families won't want to talk about the case or have it talked about.  You have to respect that.  However, where you can, use these cases as learning laboratories....tell the stories....involve the players...teach people.  Disclosure provides so many opportunities post-event, including the possibly of not having to seal every settlement.   Think about it!

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DougWojcieszak Founder Sorry Works! PO Box 531 Glen Carbon, IL 62034 618-559-8168