Doctors Are Learning That "I'm Sorry" May Prevent Lawsuits

In recent years, doctors have discovered that a simple apology can have a great effect in preventing malpractice lawsuits. According to the New York Times, Dr. Das Gupta, the chairman of surgical oncology at the University of Illinois Medical Center, mistakenly removed the wrong rib from one of his patients. Instead of using the classic “deny and defend” strategy, he promptly acknowledged his error and apologized to the patient. While the patient did accept a settlement from the hospital, she decided not to sue. Details, inside…

According to recent studies, 1 out of every 100 hospital patients receives some sort of negligent treatment and only 30% of those errors are disclosed to patients. The traditional thinking is that any admission of the doctor’s guilt invites litigation. However, some medical centers such as Johns Hopkins and Stanford are trying the apologetic approach. The article says,

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.

Despite some projections that disclosure would prompt a flood of lawsuits, hospitals are reporting decreases in their caseloads and savings in legal costs. Malpractice premiums have declined in some instances, though market forces may be partly responsible.

The University of Michigan Health system was one of the first to experiment with “full disclosure” and their number of existing claims and lawsuits dropped from 262 to 83 from 2001 to 2007. Richard C. Boothman, the medical center’s chief risk officer said, “Improving patient safety and patient communication is more likely to cure the malpractice crisis than defensiveness and denial.”

We would prefer if medical malpractice never happened but obviously that will never be the case. It’s encouraging to see that the medical community is finally becoming aware that successful conflict resolution depends on disclosure and cooperation from both sides. While this approach may not stop mistakes from happening, it will at least, help us to feel more empowered when they do.

Doctors Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Before ‘See You in Court’ [New York Times] (Thanks to Pauline!)
(Photo: Getty)