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Cut costs for legal liability defense with 'explain and apologize' researchers say

Study hinged on a unique Communication and Resolution Program which led one system to a 66 percent reduction in legal claims filed among other gains.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Want to cut down on legal defense and liability costs at your hospital? According to a study from researchers at Georgia State University, the answer may be as simple as saying you're sorry.

Florence R. LeCraw, an Atlanta anesthesiologist and adjunct professor at Georgia State University, led the team of researchers that looked at 12 years of data dating back to 2004 at Erlanger, a five-hospital system that treats 600,000 patients annually. Doctors at Erlanger are not employed by the hospital, and they purchase their own professional liability insurance, GSU said.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management, found that hospital staff and physicians who explained, apologized and resolved adverse medical events saw a drop in legal defense and liability costs. Specifically, the study hinged on Erlanger's unique Communication and Resolution Program, which was implemented in January 2009. That program led to a 66 percent reduction in legal claims filed, a 51 percent reduction in defense costs and a 53 percent reduction in the time required to close cases. No medical error occurred in 65 percent of the adverse events reported,GSU said.

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"Following CRP protocol, when medical errors were explained to the patients and their families, 43 percent were resolved by apology alone, even though 60 percent of those patients had legal representation," Dr. LeCraw said.

The study even compelled the  leader of the Medical Association of Georgia, to submit a resolution to the American Medical Association endorsing the communication and resolution program as a viable solution for resolving malpractice.

"Our contribution to the growing literature on CRPs clearly demonstrates how following this protocol can benefit patients and physicians, lower healthcare costs and improve the quality of healthcare. We hope these improved liability outcomes may encourage more physicians and medical facilities to support communications and resolution programs."

With the chorus of cries for greater transparency in the healthcare industry growing louder, this protocol seems to fall in line with that demand. If a patient or their family feels confident they have had an open and honest conversation about a sensitive issue or event with their physician, trust in that physician and his or her respective institution may not suffer as it would if the physician and hospital went on the defensive instead. That could yield better retention of patients as well as an improved reputation that could draw new ones as well.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com