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Transparency in medical negligence cases could save the health system millions

Yesterday’s conference on medical negligence was told the health service could save millions if the traditional deny and defend policy was replaced.
Nov 5th 2013, 6:30 AM 4,782 3

MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE CASES are costing the Health Service Executive millions of euro, which can be avoided, a major conference was told yesterday.

The conference entitled ‘Patients’ Rights, Access to Justice and the Case for Candour’ organised by two advocacy organisations, Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) and the Medical Injuries Alliance (MIA), heard that the current adversarial approach to medical accidents and complaints prolongs pain for families, as they are forced to battle with the system for compensation on behalf of their loved ones.

Honesty and transparency

One of the key speakers, Dr Timothy McDonald, Professor of Anaesthesiology and Paediatrics at University of Illinois and Chief Safety and Risk Officer for Health Affairs for the University of Illinois, Chicago said that the defense in every case drives up cost, stating that Ireland could benefit from the introduction of a system grounded in “honesty and transparency” from both a cost and patient safety perspective.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dr McDonald said that the traditional “deny and defend” method used by hospitals when accused of medical negligence is not helping the patient or the hospitals, stating that more money is lost this way.

Negligence

He said that hospitals going on the defensive when accused of negligence is common practice here, but said this can cost millions of euro, stating that a more honest and transparent procedure would have a better outcome for the patient and the finances of the hospitals.

Dr McDonald said:

Having a deny and defend procedure in place is contrary to learning and improving – we need to recognise that the patient is not the enemy here. A candid approach leads to better learning for our nurses, doctors and surgeons and a quicker resolution can be achieved, one that is a lot more fair for the patient and will ensure that money does not get drained from the health service’s finances and buried into the legal system.

He added that if Irish hospitals decide to move ahead and implement a more transparent system when it comes to medical negligence cases, there could be “huge efficiencies made and there is an opportunity to save a lot of money”.

He said in the traditional manner, in a case where the patient is seeking $2 million, it will cost in the region of $4.5 million to get that patient the same settlement, which he said is simply money down the drain.

He said there is a number of “bright spots” in Ireland where certain hospitals are moving towards transparency, but he said there is a long way to go before it is nationwide.

Compensation

Dr McDonald said that the type of system that he is suggesting results in safer practices and fewer compensation cases.

In a time when the Irish health service is in serious financial trouble, any savings that can be achieved was welcomed at the conference, said Dr McDonald.

“We were in a similar situation when the board of the hospital I work in gave me permission to implement the changes and since we adopted the transparent approach we have saved tens of millions of dollars,” he said.

Not only does it save money, but professionals learn from a more honest approach, he said.

“You can’t fix what you don’t know about,” he said, stating that going underground about negligence in the workplace doesn’t improve learning.

Read: More than €45m paid out to patients injured in HSE hospitals>

Read: New system may see end of lump sum court awards>

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Christina Finn

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