Candor about Adverse Events: Physicians versus the Data Bank

Many major medical institutions have now embraced the idea that it is best to be honest with patients and families when an error causes harm that could have been avoided. This kind of disclosure improves patient safety and quality of care; enhances satisfaction for patients, families, and providers; and reduces malpractice litigation costs. The University of Michigan has perhaps the best-known program. Since 2001, that institution has seen more than a 55 percent drop in the number of new malpractice claims filed, a comparable reduction in lawsuits, and a dramatic drop in both defense costs and malpractice payouts—money then redirected toward quality improvement. A few states have also embraced this approach, sometimes known as “Candor” (for “communication and optimal resolution”). Yet all of these efforts face a major challenge. Although many physicians would like very much to achieve insight, reconciliation, and quality improvement in just this way, many fear that money paid to resolve an incident in which they were involved can result in a lifelong black mark in the National Practitioner Data Bank.