Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Wisdom (And Costs Savings) Of Saying "I'm Sorry"

I think it was Einstein who once said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." After years of what I call "the 3 D's-- deny, dodge, and defend"--the medical profession is finally learning all the benefits of saying "I'm sorry" to patients injured by preventable medical mistakes.

A recent New York Times article (click on the title of this post to read) highlights how a culture of admitting preventable medical mistakes, coupled with a sincere apology and an offer to compensate victims, has reduced lawsuits and litigation costs dramatically for medical institutions that have adpoted this policy.

Frequently, clients come to us after a medical tragedy with no idea why their loved one died or was harmed. Why? Because none of the providers undertook responsibility for explaining what truly happened or were sufficiently vague in explaining what transpired that it raised the malpractice index of suspicion.
Medical providers and hospitals have been slow to realize that a culture of honesty and decency after a medical error is infinitely superior to stony silence in staving off potential lawsuits. Again, from the patients' perspective, they're dealing with a tragedy of epic proportions. Yet, many times, they get no real explanation as to what happened. It is a shame when it takes a team of lawyers and experts to read between the lines of intentionally vague medical records to explain to the client what really happened in the OR or the ICU months ago. Sadly, many of our malpractice investigations begin in that manner.

The recent passage of "I'm Sorry" legislation, which permits providers to apologize to patients without fear of it being used against them in court, puts into law what we have known anecdotally for years: that simple honesty goes a long way towards curbing malpractice suits, legislation or no legislation.

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