why does the military facilitate doctor patient sit downs after mishaps

In the past, our blog has discussed how many hospital systems have introduced programs enabling patients and physicians to sit down and talk in a constructive atmosphere in the wake of a serious medical mistake, and how the majority of states, including Pennsylvania, have now passed so-called “doctor apology” laws.

Interestingly enough, this push toward greater transparency is not just confined to the civilian realm, as the Department of Defense has actually had a similar system in place — known as the Healthcare Resolutions program — since the early 2000s and, it too, has seen considerable success.

What exactly is the Healthcare Resolutions program?

Started back in 2001 at what is now known as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Healthcare Resolutions allows patients and family members to speak with physicians in mediated sessions following medical mistakes (delayed diagnoses, surgical errors, etc.) and other negative experiences (poor communication, unexpected fatalities, etc.).

It’s viewed as being more than just a forum in which to discuss what transpired, but also an opportunity for physicians to apologize for what happened and explain what steps are being taken to prevent the same thing from reoccurring.

How many military medical facilities are using the program?

Right now, eight military treatment facilities have Healthcare Resolutions specialists on staff to help manage mediated sessions, addressing cases both at their respective facilities, and at military hospitals and clinics in their regions. In 2014, these eight Healthcare Resolutions programs handled 1,400 cases.

The program was such a success that the Army is expanding it to five more facilities in the coming year, while the Air Force is expanding it to three more facilities.

Does participation affect a person’s ability to take legal action? 

While the Feres Doctrine, introduced via a 1950s U.S. Supreme Court decision, has long prohibited active duty service members from filing medical malpractice lawsuits against military facilities, no such restriction applies to family members.

Indeed, while attorneys are not involved in sessions via the Healthcare Resolutions program, participation by family members does not affect their ability to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

It’s certainly encouraging to see that not only is the longstanding “deny and defend” culture so endemic in the medical profession changing for the better, but that it is not doing so at the expense of patients who suffered otherwise avoidable and debilitating injuries because of medical negligence.

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