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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Learning from GM, and GM Learning from Healthcare

I have been watching with interest the unfolding story of how GM will handle victims and families impacted by their ignition switch problem.  Would GM hide behind bankruptcy laws and litigate, or try to do the right thing?  It appears they are trying to do the right thing, and there was a very, very interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about this story entitled, "Feinberg on GM: Get Payments to Victims Fast."  Feinberg is attorney Kenneth Feinberg who handled the 9/11 and Boston Marathon victims' funds, and he is now in charge of GM's fund.  Link for Wall Street Journal article is below. Couple interesting take-aways from the article:  As the headline indicates, Feinberg believes victims need to be paid fast.  Here is a quote from Feinberg: "The longer you hold up delivery of compensation, the more skeptical people become.....all the words in the world are utterly meaningless if the money doesn't flow."  Further along in the article it appears that Feinberg believes these situations are all about money and victims and families canNOT receive closure and healing from the process.  Feinberg doesn't even want words like "closure" mentioned to families.

I believe healthcare can learn from Feinberg/GM, and vice versa.

For healthcare, I believe hospitals and med-mal insurers are starting to do a better job with the initial disclosure, empathy, staying connected with families, etc after something goes wrong.  There's still a lot of work to do with front-line staff in this area, but progress has been made.  Where I still see a lot of problems is if the review shows a mistake and the hospital/insurer has liability, the boys from claims and outside counsel can gum up the whole process.  "We're not paying a nickel unless they are suing us" or "We said sorry...isn't that enough?" are some of the pronouncements you hear from these folks.  Look, Feinberg is absolutely right...words are meaningless unless you back them up, which for some people will mean compensation (in various forms).  This part of the process must be smooth and pro-active, which means as we develop disclosure programs we need buy-in from claims, outside counsel, leadership, and outside insurers.  Because if the claims process is not smooth and efficient, the hospital, doctors, and nurses look even worse...their post-event empathy looks fraudulent and everyone will feel burned by the process.

For GM/Feinberg, money is's very important for some people.  And money is how many people keep count in our society.   But fixes can involve more than money, and sometimes money is not important at all in these cases!  We know in healthcare that we are starting to involve patients and families after medical errors...asking them to share their stories with staff...being involved on safety committees...even learning they can become trusted advisors and consultants to hospital leadership.  These opportunities provide tremendous healing and closure for families (it did for me and my family), but they also improve medicine.  I imagine several families impacted by the GM ignition switch problem would love to share their stories with GM engineers and staff, and some of these consumers would be good additions to GM safety committees.  GM would be a better company for it.  Moreover, absent these offers, early-offer programs can look like you are simply paying off people, whereas when you give the chance for some folks to be involved in making the company better - be it a car manufacturer or a hospital - your efforts appear genuine and sincere.

Here is the link for the Wall Street Journal story:

For our American readers, have a happy and safe 4th of July!