Website spotlight: Acknowledging medical errors leads to more transparent, safer culture

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, November 12, 2010

Preventing medical errors and patient harm is a top priority for most hospitals. Physicians, nurses, and other clinicians do not enter their professions to produce poor outcomes.

However, medicine is an inherently risky business, and sometimes patients are harmed. Informing patients and their families of harm—which may or may not have resulted from an error—is always difficult. Providers find disclosing harm, and sometimes errors, is complicated not only emotionally, but also legally and financially. The majority of providers currently work in a legal culture in which they aren't allowed to speak of the event, counteracting the ideals of openness and transparency so often valued by patient safety and quality professionals.

In 2001, one hospital system began changing the way its physicians dealt with patient harm. The University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) began allowing physicians and other clinicians to disclose errors and offer compensation. The idea was to be open and honest, and if harm occurred because of an error that could have been avoided, to offer compensation up front along with an apology. The change, in many ways, created a more transparent, positive, efficient, and safe culture, according to chief risk officer Richard Boothman, JD.

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