Harvard adopts disclosure and apology policy

August 1, 2006

Harvard's 16 teaching hospitals have unanimously agreed to a new policy that requires routine disclosure and apology after an adverse event. The initiative follows in the footsteps of the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which has had such a policy in place since 1987, as well as the medical liability insurer COPIC Insurance Co. and the University of Michigan Health System.

Harvard's 16 teaching hospitals have unanimously agreed to a new policy that requires routine disclosure and apology after an adverse event. The initiative follows in the footsteps of the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which has had such a policy in place since 1987, as well as the medical liability insurer COPIC Insurance Co. and the University of Michigan Health System.

The Harvard policy creates a specific format for communicating with patients and their families after an adverse event, according to American Medical News (6/12/06). Immediately after the event, the facility and health-care professionals should acknowledge the event, express regret, take steps to minimize further patient harm, and commit to investigating why the event occurred. As a follow-up, the policy requires the disclosure of the internal investigation's results, the offering of an apology if there is an error or systems failure, and the creation of a plan to prevent a recurrence of the error. Additionally, the policy calls for emotional and institutional support of not only the patients, but also the health-care professionals involved.