We hadn’t checked in with Doug Wojcieszak for a bit. He’s still leading a nationwide charge on behalf of SorryWorks!, a "middle ground solution to the medical liability crisis." He recently responded to criticism lobbed at this communication and reconciliation plan between healthcare providers, patients, and families.
There has been a slight rumbling of criticism from the patient/family/consumer-side over the past few months. Some testimony has been given, comments made, and other gripes have been aired about Sorry Works! The comments usually say that Sorry Works! short-changes patients, families, and their attorneys (how else could the program save money??!!) or that attorneys are closed out of the program and injured people are taken advantage of, etc, etc. Others simply say "sorry" isn't enough for injured people.
In this brief section we are going to address those concerns. We won't name any names, because names are not really important for this discussion, but the issues are extremely important and they're basically the same whether you're from a big city or small town, New York to California and all places in between.
Let us say upfront Sorry Works! only works because of three words: credibility, credibility, and....credibilty.
The program is only credible when the plaintiff's bar is allowed to be involved - and actually encouraged to be involved. Patients and families need to know that their rights and interests are protected, and the hospital/insurer/medical group should do everything it can to make sure it never presents the image of trying to pull a fast one on people. Encourage patients and families to retain legal counsel, if they so choose. Dr. Steve Kraman at the VA would hand out business cards of prominent plaintiffs firms in the Lexington, KY area to families when scheduling disclosure meetings. Furthermore, share the program details with trial lawyers and encourage them to call before they file a lawsuit. They have done just this at the University of Michigan Hospital System and it's a big part of the reason their litigation is down by 50 percent - especially non-meritorious litigation. Communication and building relationships are so important. Send a clear message to the trial bar that you want to work with them and you will quickly and fairly compensate injured people and their families for errors, but you'll never settle junk cases or sell out your medical staff. Tell them you have integrity and principles - all the way around. Tell them you have compassion and a backbone.
When lawyers are involved, patients and families feel better that their interests are protected, especially in bigger cases. Furthermore, it's easier to negoitate a settlement for a legitimate medical error lawyer to lawyer instead of hospital to patient or grieving family members. Trial lawyers are paid many different ways, from normal contigency fees to hourly rates. But, then again, doctors shouldn't concern themselves with how lawyers get paid - docs need to re-focus on the patients and family to solve their litigation problems, which is what Sorry Works! does.
When folks criticize Sorry Works! (and they don't do with spite... they just don't understand or believe it yet), they are speaking to the issue from the framework of the current med-mal debate. The framework that says docs, hospitals, and insurers will hide errors and screw patients and families - the framework that also says after a disclosure meeting trial lawyers will try to use the doc's apology to hit the jackpot in court.
All of these viewpoints speak of mistrust. Mistrust and docs, patients, and lawyers not communicating and working with each other are the reasons we have a med-mal crisis. Whereas, Sorry Works! works because it restores trust and communication and keeps people working together. Amazing what can happen when people treat each other with civility after adverse events. Good things can and do happen.
Final point: Sorry Works! - when done credibly (which means involving the plaintiff's bar) - saves money for many reasons. Cases closed quicker and lower litigation expenses. Fewer medical errors, especialy repeat errors. Also, patients and families will typically settle for less. This doesn't mean they are being short-changed - they get all their expenses and suffering fairly and quickly compensated and a lawyer is present to make sure it happens. However, when anger is removed and patients are provided answers, accountability, and honesty, they don't want to financially punish docs. Settlement figures come down.
People so often believe that injured patients and families are "just out for bucks." No. No. No. Patients and families want to be treated like human beings with civility and respect. They want answers. They want accountability. And they want their problems fixed in a fair, quick manner. When all of these elements are present in a disclosure meeting, money becomes less of an issue. However, when honesty and candor are not forth coming and patients can't get answers and accountability, is it any surprise patients and families want to get all the money they can to punish the docs?