Apologies prevent malpractice lawsuits
During the period of time I worked at a personal injury firm, I interviewed more than a few potential medical malpractice clients. Without exception, every one of them decided to retain an attorney because they felt that a doctor or hospital was trying to hide something. Their desire to sue was motivated out of a genuine desire to know the truth, and to be honest, to punish people they felt lied to them. I've said for years that if doctors would just disclose an error and apologize sincerely, the doctor would be less likely to be sued. And it turns out I was right:
At the University of Michigan Health System, one of the first to experiment with full disclosure, existing claims and lawsuits dropped to 83 in August 2007 from 262 in August 2001, said Richard C. Boothman, the medical center’s chief risk officer.
“Improving patient safety and patient communication is more likely to cure the malpractice crisis than defensiveness and denial,” Mr. Boothman said.
Mr. Boothman emphasized that he could not know whether the decline was due to disclosure or safer medicine, or both. But the hospital’s legal defense costs and the money it must set aside to pay claims have each been cut by two-thirds, he said. The time taken to dispose of cases has been halved.
The number of malpractice filings against the University of Illinois has dropped by half since it started its program just over two years ago, said Dr. Timothy B. McDonald, the hospital’s chief safety and risk officer. In the 37 cases where the hospital acknowledged a preventable error and apologized, only one patient has filed suit. Only six settlements have exceeded the hospital’s medical and related expenses.
Everyone makes mistakes - patients know that. But the right thing to do when you make a mistake is own up to it. Patients know that, too.