Friday, January 16, 2009

Winnipeg tries apologetic approach to deal with medical mistakes

After her abdominal operation last summer, the patient's hip started to ache. The symptom of a painful joint was hardly a surprise - she was a senior citizen - but the cause of it, picked up on an X-ray, was: a pair of four-inch forceps floating in her abdominal cavity.

What happened next is equally astonishing: The surgeon who performed the gynecological procedure in a Winnipeg operating room apologized. Hospital staff followed up with their own apology, telling the patient if she required any help, it was available.

It's all part of a new approach by Winnipeg officials, hailed as the first of its type in Canada: apologizing to patients when a mistake is made and offering compensation where appropriate.

"People are slowly getting used to the idea that there are lots of preventable injuries and preventable deaths," said Rob Robson, chief patient safety officer for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. "And we need to get off our butts and do something about it."

Mistakes in medicine have long been seen as something best buried with the patient. In the past, the tendency to defend and deny has been favoured by malpractice lawyers and insurers, who feared full disclosure would unleash a torrent of lawsuits.

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