As part of a growing trend among U.S. hospitals and malpractice insurers to embrace medical disclosures and apologies to patients, some of Harvard Medical School's top teaching hospitals may adopt a policy guiding physicians in acknowledging and apologizing to patients for medical errors.
The policy, if adopted, would create a uniform response to some of medicine's most difficult situations at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Children's Hospital Boston.
The hospitals would join a growing number of U.S. medical centers and malpractice insurers that embrace medical disclosures and apologies to patients.
"I'm trying to get all the Harvard hospitals to adopt the policy," said noted patient-safety expert Lucian Leape, M.D., a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and the effort's leader. "The time has come to be open with our patients."
He declined to discuss details, saying the policy has not been completed.
The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations requires hospital caregivers to tell patients about the most serious situations, but doesn't spell out requirements beyond that. Leape and other physicians working on the policy said disclosure is "the right thing to do." There also is growing belief among malpractice insurers that disclosure, along with sympathy and remorse, could head off malpractice lawsuits.
The hospitals' top executives, and in some cases their trustees, would have to approve the policy.