Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Changing the Discussion on Med-Mal/Tort Reform?

If you are tired of the same ol’ debate on med-mal, let’s it change it now, for the better. And use Sorry Works! to do it…

Here’s where we’re at: Type in “medical malpractice” in Google News and you will be overwhelmed with a large collection of recent news articles and opinion pieces, both pro and con, from all around the country. President Obama and the Republicans have seen fit to give us another round of this never ending fight. It’s not only happening at the national level, but also at the state level in such places as Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Whether you like tort reform or not, let’s agree on some things. First, don’t hold your breath at the federal level. If you can’t pass it with Bush, Hassert, and Frist, when will it ever pass? At the state level, legislatures can get excited all they want, but then the courts always have the final say. Remember Georgia? No more tort reform.

Time to refocus the debate. Time to put this train on an entirely different set of tracks. At Sorry Works!, we talk about shifting the med-mal debate from a political/legal challenge to a customer service opportunity. Med-mal is rooted in customer service problems, plain and simple. Communication. Accountability. Follow through. Saving and transforming relationships. It’s all over the peer-reviewed medical literature. We simply need to get the opinion leaders in medical societies, in government, and the media singing the right song.

Fortunately, some folks are starting to hum the right way.

The Belleville News Democrat, located in St. Louis and one of the most pro-tort reform newspapers in the country, published an interview with the President of Illinois State Medical Society which basically said Illinois stinks for doctors – except there was the following quote:

“There are some promising signs, though, Malkin (med-soc president) said.

One is a study being conducted at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Patient Safety Excellence. Under the study, funded by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, six hospitals are instituting a system wherein they immediately disclose and investigate mistakes, make apologies when appropriate, find ways to improve and, if appropriate, try to reach a financial settlement.

‘I think it holds a lot of promise, taking things out of court and letting people in medicine decide if there was something wrong,’ Malkin said.”

Then, I almost fell out my chair when the past-President of the Massachusetts Medical Society recently told the Boston Globe in an interview that disclosure was the answer to our med-mal problems. Here is his quote:

“A serious national debate about medical liability reform is way overdue, said Dr. Alan Woodward, a past president of Massachusetts Medical Society and current vice chairman of the society’s committee on professional liability.

‘The current system is profoundly dysfunctional,” he said, adding that courts are slow and inefficient ? and often inequitable – to injured patients, and the liability system creates a ‘culture of fear’ among doctors that drives up cost with defensive medicine.

Far better would be a system in use at the University of Michigan, he said, which requires full disclosure to patients who have been injured, along with ‘a sincere apology,’ an explanation on how the mistake would not be repeated on anyone else, as well as an offer of compensation. The program dramatically reduced litigation, he said.”

So, some glimpses of light. We need more light. We need to keep it up.

Clinicians need to keep pushing disclosure with their hospitals, practices, and also professionals societies.

Politicians and the media can help, too. Next time a medical lobbyist or PR person shows up asking for tort reform, reply with a question: “What are you guys doing on disclosure? Disclosure has been shown to dramatically reduce litigation, and the courts can never take it away.”

Patients and families need to raise the issue with their physicians and hospitals. “What is your policy on disclosure?” should be the question.

And so on.

The discussion won’t change overnight, but we’ll get there. Let’s keep it up.


– Doug

GeneralJames Harper