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How An Apology Can Go A Long Way After A Medical Error

Update Date: Apr 01, 2019 10:17 PM EDT

Healthcare providers are struggling with a larger number of patients than ever before, which has led many professionals to sweat over the increased prospects of facing a patient lawsuit after a medical error has occurred. This has led to the unfortunate trend of healthcare providers become opaque and shunning transparency initiatives, especially since many healthcare professionals and insurance providers mistakenly believe that providing data and fessing up when things go wrong renders them more liable to a lawsuit.

Recent research demonstrates that transparency is the best policy after a medical error, however, even and especially if you want to avoid liability. Here's how an apology can go a long way after a medical error.

Patients appreciate hearing the facts

Some doctors and insurance providers live in fear of being honest with patients after a medical error because they think divulging damaging information about what occurred during a medical procedure opens them up to a lawsuit. In reality, however, patients appreciate hearing the facts and are less prone to exploring legal remedies in the event of a medical error if healthcare providers are upfront and honest about what occurred and why things went wrong. According to one new study, at least, communication-and-resolution programs that seek to inform patients on why things went terrible askew found that liability costs were diminished and that patient safety improvements were also achieved.

Two large Massachusetts hospital systems were studied in an effort to determine if their communication-and-resolution programs, which scrutinized harmful events to determine what went wrong and who was at fault. Most of the adverse events that were studied didn't lead to lawsuits, and those compensation payments that the programs did dish out to wronged patients weren't nearly as large as the national average. Whereas the national median payment in malpractice lawsuits was $225,000, for instance, the median payment for the hospital programs was a mere $75,000.

Healthcare providers and everyday professionals may thus benefit from increased transparency and telling patients exactly what occurred. This makes sense, too, especially as most patients aren't looking to make a quick buck but simply want to know why their medical assistance inadvertently backfired on them and produced negative results. When patients feel as if they've been wronged and that the hospital is covering up what occurred, it's only natural that they would pursue legal remedies. When they're looped in as to what occurred, however, and given a reasonable channel to communicate with the experts in question, they're more likely to be reasonable and work with healthcare experts instead of against them.

It's a tough decision

Nonetheless, apologizing when things go wrong and being transparent is a tough decision, especially since medical experts feel the need to hide some industry secrets from their patients . After all, not everyone wants to learn how the sausage is made before they receive invasive surgery or undergo harsh medical treatments. Nonetheless, it's becoming increasingly obvious that increased transparency must be fostered across the medical industry if lawsuits are going to be diminished and overall patient health bolstered.

The legal system in most states is actually making it easier for doctors to apologize, too, so it's important that a widespread social movement is ignited that champions the ability for professionals to fess up when things go wrong without facing too harsh of a backlash. Accountability is always important, of course, but an increased focus on forgiveness could encourage more people to come forward and help us avoid more accidents in the first place.

It's important to establish that saying "I'm sorry" isn't by itself enough to appease patients, nor should it be. While some stubborn medical officials will continue to argue that they have done nothing wrong, making things about forthright disclosure when things go wrong could mitigate the potential for a lawsuit to arise while making patients trust their healthcare providers more than ever. In other words, saying "I'm sorry," isn't so much the important part as is the taking of sufficient steps to avoid future mistakes.

An apology can go a long way after a medical error, especially if it's coupled with an honest review of what went wrong and a plan to get things right in the future. As healthcare providers seek to take on a larger number of patients, they should keep focusing on transparency and accountability in the workplace.

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