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Research Institute: The University of Michigan's Claims Management Program (Not an apology program)

The University of Michigan is commonly referred to as having a program in which the voluntary disclosure of, and apology for, medical errors was successful reducing lawsuits and lowering malpractice costs. Unfortunately, these statements are not true. According to the sworn testimony of the University of Michigan’s chief risk officer before the United States Congress, the University’s results were NOT the result of voluntarily disclosing errors and apologizing.

The chief risk officer testified that the State of Michigan has a number of tort reform measures. One of those measures requires a plaintiff attorney to send a “Notice Letter” to the party whom he intends to sue. The attorney must then wait six months before he can file a lawsuit. The purpose of the requirement is to give the parties the opportunity to resolve the issue without litigation. However, the party who receives the letter is not required to act on it, and there is no requirement for the parties to work to resolve the matter.

In an effort to lower its malpractice costs, the University of Michigan adopted a policy that it would respond to every “Notice Letter” by conducting an internal investigation. If the investigation revealed shortcomings in the involved patient’s care, the University would attempt to negotiate a settlement. And, it was successful in doing so in most cases. (Frankly, this is a plaintiff attorney’s dream. To be paid without even having to file a lawsuit.) On the other hand, if the investigation revealed that the patient had received proper care, the University ignored the Notice Letter and allowed the patient to sue (if he or she chose to do so). Over the next few years, the number of lawsuits filed against the University declined, its legal fees dropped, and the average amount of time to resolve an outstanding claim decreased.

These results are to be expected. By settling potential claims before they were even filed, the number of claims and the legal fees to defend those claims would drop, as would the mean time to resolve a claim. However, this is a claims management policy. It is not a “disclosure and apology” for every medical error program.

It is important to note that what the University described is NOT a proactive disclosure and apology program. The University did not do anything until the patient retained an attorney and the attorney sent a letter stating that he was going to sue. And, the entire approach was made possible by effective tort reform.

In addition, the University’s testimony states that it is too early to tell whether the approach will save money (as it may be paying out more money in settlements than is otherwise necessary). But, regardless of the impact of the program, it is a claims management program made possible by the unique tort reform in Michigan. It is NOT a disclosure of medical errors and apology program.

Read Richard Boothman’s Testimony

Medical-legal education with a passion for medicine and compassion for patients.