Admit a Medical Mistake?

Physician's Money Digest, May 31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 10

A quiet revolution is taking place in some hospitalsand doctors' offices. When a medical mistakeis made, instead of stonewalling, health careproviders are apologizing and offering to reimbursepatients for their trouble. In some hospitals,mostly in the Veterans Administration system, anhonesty policy, under which patients are told whenmistakes are made and victims are compensated,has been in effect for as long as 15 years, and thetrend is beginning to spread.

Copic Insurance Company (800-421-1834;, a Denver-based malpractice insurer,asks physicians to report any injuries or complications,and responds to the patient within 72 hourswith an offer to cover lost wages and any additionalmedical expenses. In direct opposition tothe prevailing deny-and-defend tactic, apologiesare apparently not fanning the flames of malpracticefever, as some critics fear, but instead arereducing the overall number of claims and cuttingthe average insurance payout.

Copic's average claim cost for the 146 cases in itsprogram over the past 2 years is $4300, comparedwith an average of $52,000 for all claims and lawsuitsagainst the firm in the past 5 years. Accordingto supporters of the program, most patients arehappy to get a fair settlement within a few monthsrather than filing a malpractice suit and hoping tohit the legal lottery within 3 to 5 years.