When A Patient Gets an Apology/Martin Rosenfeld,JD

Posted on February 2, 2016


A headline in the Wall Street Journal said it all: “Hospitals Learn to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ to Patients.” At Stanford Hospital, a surgeon accidentally caused a new injury to a patient. The patient received an apology, an explanation, and a waiver of the bill, plus an undisclosed settlement.  The protocol was consistent with the adoption by the hospital of a program whereby they are more transparent about mistakes they have made. The program, called PEARL, was begun in 2009. Since then, lawsuit frequency has been cut in half, and indemnity costs for such errors was reduced by 40%.

When someone feels aggrieved, they have a need to be heard. But the hearing itself is rendered most effective when a party is prepared to say “I am sorry”. The litigation model is effective if one believes that s/he who shouts loudest will ultimately prevail. The PEARL program, and others like it, work well because there is a need, as a Stanford executive stated, to provide answers. The questions patients ask, like those asked by divorcing parties, might include the following: Why did this happen? Does it happen often? Did you take the time/care to try to prevent it? In disputes, there is often more at stake than dollars and cents. Litigation cannot provide all that the aggrieved party needs. Conversation, transparency, and mediation is more appropriate for finding the perfect solution. Mediation is not just about getting settlements on disputes. It is about helping people get the answers they need so they can move forward. Mediate don’t litigate.