What Impact Does Saying I’m Sorry Have On Medical Malpractice Litigation?
Recently the Sacramento Bee reported about a 25-year old woman who visited a doctor for exhaustion. Although the doctor performed blood tests, he failed to follow-up concerning the results, which were abnormal. Two-months later, the woman was admitted to the hospital following a car accident, and the error was discovered.
The article asks at what point a physician should disclose medical errors. Unfortunately, medical errors and medical mistakes happen at an alarming frequency. Statistics provide that nearly 98,000 patients die each year due to preventable medical errors.
Many medical malpractice observers believe that if doctors were to admit their errors and apologize for their mistakes, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits would decrease. In fact, a Massachusetts hospital has just introduced a ““Disclosure, Apology, and Offer” approach, under which participating doctors and hospitals will commit to disclosing to patients when they make dire mistakes in treatment. They will investigate what happened; say how they’ll prevent it from happening again. And they will apologize and make financial offers to patients without waiting to be sued.
A representative of the hospital notes that the system hopes to change the approach to hospital error from a “reactive system” to a “proactive system.” “Where there’s denial, there will be an apology, and where there’s fear, there will be trust.”
The impact of an apology approach concerning medical malpractice litigation remains to be seen – those who suffer harm as the result of physician or hospital error are entitled to be compensated through the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits. However, this article and the hospital apology policies underscore another moral concern – patients who suffer harm due to physician error deserve an apology. As stated in the article “according to most major religions, most societal norms and most medical groups, health care providers are required to disclose and to apologize when they do something that harms or could harm another person. This is just human decency. Medical disclosure has two other advantages. It allows the doctor and the health care system an opportunity to look for the root causes of the errors to prevent recurrences in the future. Disclosure also allows for self-forgiveness and freedom from guilt.”
Here, the article notes that “had [the woman’s] doctor apologized for the error, she would have willingly offered her forgiveness and acknowledged to her doctor that we are, after all, only human.
Instead, she ended up angry and confused about why the lab test oversight was never discussed with her. She ultimately decided to find a new doctor.”
If you believe you have been the victim of a medical error, please contact the dedicated California medical malpractice lawyers at Bostwick & Peterson for an immediate consultation.