N.J. hospitals gain from apologies

In Valley Hospital on March 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

N.J. hospitals gain from apologies
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Published: March 9, 2009Buzz up!

HACKENSACK, N.J. — All Donald Platt wanted was an apology.


The tumor on his kidney was the size of a baseball by the time his cancer was detected — five years after his doctor misdiagnosed his symptoms and failed to order the right tests.

Platt sued, angered as much by his doctor’s attitude as by the mistake.

“He never apologized,” said Platt, from Upper Saddle River, N.J. “If he had, I probably never would have sued.”

Eager to resolve medical mistakes in a better way, some New Jersey hospitals and physicians are openly admitting errors to patients. They are offering sincere apologies and, sometimes, money.

Hospital officials hope saying “we’re sorry” will cut down on lawsuits. It’s a radical change from the “deny and defend” culture of medicine, which leaves patients angry.

“We want to try to do the right thing in these instances and resolve things … in a better way than blood and guts litigation,” said Larry Downs, general counsel for the Medical Society of New Jersey.

The society is evaluating “Sorry Works!” — a program that claims to have reduced litigation expenses by two-thirds at some of the nation’s hospitals.

‘It’s fantasyland’
At The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., officials report that lawsuits are down more than half since the hospital started its apology program.
LibertyHealth, which operates Jersey City Medical Center, say their program, “We’re Sorry,” also has had good results.

While the conversation can be unpleasant, patients appreciate the truth, said Dr. David Roy, who hopes more hospitals promote openness.

“A patient feels doubly violated when something happens because of a medical error and then they can’t get any answers,” he said.

While the New Jersey Hospital Association supports the apology concept, they, along with some physicians, worry it will give patients ammunition for lawsuits.

“There is still a feeling that if I say, ‘I’m sorry,’ that confers liability on a physician’s or hospital’s part,” said Aline M. Holmes, senior vice president of clinical affairs.

“It’s fantasyland,” said Dr. Richard M. Winters, chairman of the medical board at Hackensack University Medical Center.

“Until we have meaningful tort reform in this country and people can’t sue for spilling coffee on themselves, we will have a hard time bringing people to the table,” he said.

  1. I think it’s honorable for a physician to admit to and apologize for a mistake. However, some mistakes cause life long suffering and loss of livelihood for the patient’s involved. There are some things that even the most sincere of apologies just can’t fix.

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