Saturday, May 17, 2008

Medical Apologies

Doctors are among the last to apologize for errors. It's not just their egos that are on the line, but also their wallets that are at stake. But according to this New York Times report, that may be changing:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

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.

Some bad news:

Recent studies have found that one of every 100 hospital patients suffers negligent treatment, and that as many as 98,000 die each year as a result. But studies also show that as few as 30 percent of medical errors are disclosed to patients.

But also some good news:

To give doctors comfort, 34 states have enacted laws making apologies for medical errors inadmissible in court... Four states have gone further and protected admissions of culpability. Seven require that patients be notified of serious unanticipated outcomes.

Bottom line: Acknowledging and disclosing error in medical procedures is more likely to lead to errors being corrected -- rather than getting swept under the rug, so to speak, at the patient's peril.

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