It happens so often that there’s a well-known term for it in the legal community: Deny and defend. It refers to a situation in which a guilty party denies any wrongdoing and allows an attorney to vigorously defend them in court. This term is often used in medical malpractice cases. But what about the morality and ethics behind applying such tactics? There are real people on the other side of these denials, people who have lost children, loved ones, their own ability to walk, talk, or enjoy life as they did before an accident, error, abuse or neglect.
About 15% of hospitals and health organizations have implemented an accountability model for medical error commonly referred to as a “communication and resolution” program. The focus of programs such as these is to acknowledge to victims and their families that a mistake occurred, provide possible explanations as to why it happened, take responsibility and ownership of that error, offer condolences, and potentially provide some form of compensation. All of this happens outside of a courtroom.
Several Illinois Hospital Groups Using Communication and Resolution Programs
Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) Medical Group, an organization based in Springfield and comprised of 15 hospitals, as well as health centers and clinics in Illinois in Wisconsin, has followed the communication and resolution model for years with great success. The program didn’t originate under the guise of reducing lawsuits, but instead to help provide relief to medical providers burdened by guilt and to families suffering without answers. However, research has shown that an apology by a provider does not decrease or increase the number of lawsuits or the dollar amount of payouts in the lawsuits that occur. For organizations such as HSHS and University of Illinois Chicago Hospital and Clinics that have implemented these programs, the focus is less about saving money and more about protecting their integrity and providing support to physicians and patients.
Deny and Defend Likely Here to Stay
While the use of communication and resolution models is a huge step away from the trend of deny and defend, those involved with creating and running these programs have acknowledged that operating under this model is no small feat. In order for such a program to be successful, buy in from providers is crucial. Admitting a mistake can be crushing, especially when doctors are fearful of repercussions. Rhonda Perna, Director of Patient Safety and Risk Management for UIC, told the State Journal-Register that several states are debating passing laws that would lessen potential punishment for physicians that admit making a mistake, but that Illinois isn’t one of them.
In January, the State Journal-Register covered the story of an Illinois widower and father of 2 young girls who lost his 33 year old wife after a surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine to remove a benign mass. Following his wife’s death, Ryan Strange was able to get a meeting with the surgeon, who said that blood loss led to cardiac arrest, all because of a defective surgical stapler. After the meeting, Mr. Strange felt like he was left with more questions than answers and ultimately hired a medical malpractice attorney. While facing a future as a grieving single father, Ryan Strange says that it would have been easier to handle his grief if the health system had a program in place that allowed for the surgeon to admit the mistake, explain exactly what happened, and offer some sort of financial compensation. But he also acknowledges that he now must provide both emotionally and financially for two girls who lost their mother too soon.
Even though research hasn’t pointed to an increase in lawsuits or payouts, many hospitals will likely continue to shield themselves from admitting fault up front. Regardless of whether or not a hospital has a communication and resolution program in place, it is always advisable that a medical malpractice attorney be present to protect the best interests of those who have been injured. A financial payout offered up front from the hospital will likely not be as large as a potential jury verdict or settlement reached through a trial or negotiations between attorneys.
If you believe that you or someone you love has been the victim of a medical error, please contact the Illinois medical malpractice attorneys of Levin & Perconti for a free, confidential consultation. With nearly $700 million in verdicts and settlements, our attorneys have experience litigating throughout Chicagoland and the state of Illinois and have earned a reputation for being fierce advocates for those who have been injured as a result of medical mistakes.