Apologies for Medical Errors-Now We Know the Rest of the Story

For the past few weeks, the Massachusetts Medical Society along with other similar organizations have made great efforts at publicizing a new initiative to apologize of medical errors and/or medical malpractice. The apology is designed to make amends and help injured people.
However, the Boston Globe claims to have discovered a far less noble motive. Here’s what an article in today’s paper notes, “The Massachusetts Medical Society and seven local hospitals recently announced a plan to disclose medical errors to patients, apologize, and offer compensation. They tout it as being humane, fair, and designed to help injured people. There is reason, though, to question who it really serves.
Toward the back of a 25-page policy paper addressing the initiative, called “A Roadmap for Removing Barriers to Disclosure, Apology and Offer in Massachusetts,’’ the authors admit that they also intend to pursue “a formal strategy to advance legislative changes” that includes “additional tort reforms independent [of the apology] itself.” In other words, doing the right thing for patients is not, in their view, an end to itself. Instead, it’s another foothold for larger plans to limit access to compensation for patients harmed by malpractice.
That the coalition is publicly mum on its broader agenda is no mistake. The road map determined that, to gain acceptance, it must “emphasize that the motive . . . is to support patients and provide safer care, not save money.” Yet, when the designers of the program were asked by researchers what was appealing to them about it, only 37 percent said because it “serves patients’ needs better.” By contrast, 74 percent said it was appealing because it would “reduce legal costs/risk.” Put differently, it’s about money, not patients; except when the press is asking. Then, it’s about patients, not money.”
Besides using the “apology” as a backdoor entrance for tort reform, studies have shown that such an apology actually reduces the number of medical malpractice claims made as well as the amount of the settlement.
Apologies are wonderful tools of reconciliation, if sincere and honest. On the other hand, there’s nothing more cynical or devious than one that is insincere and self-serving.