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Imagine a world-renowned university hospital system encouraging doctors and nurses to report medical errors and to tell patients and their families about these mistakes. If the hospital finds its doctors are at fault for an injury caused by a medical error, it offers a financial settlement to the patient or family.

The above scenario isn’t imaginary. It’s taking place in the University of Michigan Health System today. Perhaps hard to imagine are the positive results: legal costs have dropped, as did the number of claims filed for compensation. In addition, the time it took to resolve claims for compensation dropped, too.

Improving Doctor-Patient Relationships

As reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study of the University of Michigan’s disclosure policy holds promise of easing medical liability costs for health care providers and improving relationships between doctors and patients wary of a mistake-prone industry.

A recent national study of medical errors pegs the number of measurable medical mistakes annually at 1.5 million, with a cost to Americans of $19.5 billion — evidence that there is enormous room for improvement in the health care system.

Fair Settlements for Injured Patients

The Michigan study shows that if doctors, nurses and hospitals were to fully disclose their mistakes, they would be more likely to come to reasonable, fair settlements with injured patients. Today’s system, in which most hospitals and doctors do all they can to hide or deny medical errors, fosters mistrust and an adversarial relationship between the injured patient and the caregiver who made a mistake.

Adoption of a more transparent, honest system of disclosure would give the country real health care reform. It could slow the push of health care industry lobbyists for caps on medical malpractice; caps that wind up doing little but punishing injured patients.