Monday, October 08, 2007

Apologies can improve the health of hospital-patient relations

Transparency and dialogue result in healthier patient-hospital relationshipsAll Things Considered, a National Public Radio news magazine, recently aired a program on the benefits for both patients and the medical profession when hospitals find better ways to respond to medical errors and unsatisfactory patient outcomes in "Practice of Hospital Apologies Is Gaining Ground".

What stands out is the reaction of one patient interviewed for the program whose doctors failed to make an early cancer diagnosis. Instead of denying responsibility for the error, the hospital's attorney arranged a meeting with the patient, the patient's husband and her attorney, and the two oncologists who treated her. The patient had this to say about the experience:
My husband and I both left that meeting feeling like a million bucks. I was heard that night. That's all I really wanted. I wanted them to know that this was not right, what happened to me.
The hospital's attorney, also interviewed for the story, emphasized how important these conversations are for everyone involved. Looking back on a case early in his career in which a jury returned a defense verdict for his client, he remembered,
After the jury was dismissed, the lady who sued my client leaned across the podium and said, 'If you had only told me everything I heard in this courtroom, I would never have sued you in the first place.' That really left a mark on me, and for 20 years I wondered why we never talk to each other.
The benefits of these programs are numerous. Not only does everyone save money on legal costs, and not only do both sides learn important information from each other during the course of the conversation, but this willingness to be open encourages medical staff to come forward to report errors, which means greater safety for patients.

Listen to the story here--it's well worth the six minutes it takes to hear those involved describe just how invaluable talking to each other can be.

(Photo credit: Wolf Friedmann.)