Will more hospitals adopt apology-and-disclosure policies?

September 1, 2007

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Although more than half of the states across the nation have laws making an apology after an adverse event inadmissible in court, hospitals have been slow to hop on the bandwagon. Why? Many hospitals are worried that "such transparency could give more ammunition to the plaintiffs' bar to pursue frivolous lawsuits," reported American Medical News (6/25/2007). Moreover, many doctors find offering an apology after an adverse event difficult, because they have not been adequately trained to provide an appropriate expression of regret or cannot deal with the emotional toll.

Still, several hospitals-including the Lexington VA, Harvard's 16 teaching hospitals, the 42-hospital Catholic Healthcare West system, Kaiser Permanente's 30 medical centers, and Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota-have decided to implement these policies. And, the University of Michigan Health System found that its apology-and-disclosure policy saved $2 million a year in medical liability costs.

Currently, 30 states plus the District of Columbia prevent plaintiffs from using a doctor's or hospital's apology in court. Although the specific communication that is protected varies, the states that have such laws are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.