Thomas H. Gallagher M.D.

Department of Medicine

University of Washington
Email: Discipline: Medicine, Ethics

Investigator Award
Responding Justly to Patients Harmed by Medical Care: Disclosure, Compensation, and Litigation
Award Year: 2007 The Institute of Medicine's 2000 report, To Err Is Human, and the widespread media attention it received, dramatically increased awareness of the extent of medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals. Since then, a number of states and national quality organizations have adopted policies requiring or encouraging medical professionals to tell patients and families when unanticipated "adverse events" occur. Some organizations and insurers have gone even further by adopting programs through which disclosures of adverse events are accompanied by offers of compensation (known as disclosure and offer or D&O programs). Still, prompt disclosure of medical errors and fair compensation remain the exception rather than the rule. Thomas H. Gallagher, M.D. and Michelle M. Mello, J.D., Ph.D., M.Phil., seek to more fully understand the effects of disclosure initiatives and innovative D&O programs on malpractice costs and patients' access to compensation. Their project, Responding Justly to Patients Harmed by Medical Care: Disclosure, Compensation, and Litigation, explores how policy levers can be used to make disclosing errors more routine and evaluates the design and effectiveness of D&O programs. Their work should help policymakers better understand the potential of these initiatives and how they might best be integrated into broader medical liability reforms.


Thomas Gallagher, M.D., is a general internist who is professor in the departments of medicine and bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington. Dr. Gallagher has a long-standing research interest in the ethical, communication, and policy dimensions of conflicts of interest, with a primary focus on disclosure of medical errors and adverse events to patients. His empirical research has used both quantitative and qualitative methods to explore patients', physicians', and nurses' attitudes towards the disclosure of harmful errors; how physicians' disclose errors to patients; the impact of simulation training on healthcare workers' team communication and error disclosure knowledge, attitudes, and skills; physicians' attitudes towards reporting adverse events and errors to healthcare organizations, and the emotional impact of errors on physicians. Additional work is exploring the disclosure of other healthcare workers' errors to patients, and strategies for measuring patient and physician assessment of the quality of actual disclosures. Dr. Gallagher received his medical degree from Harvard University, completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Barnes Hospital, Washington University, St. Louis, and undertook a fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, UCSF. He cares for patients in both the outpatient and inpatient settings.