Today’s New York Times has an editorial on doctors saying they are sorry for mistakes, and the dramatic decrease in litigation that results. This philosophy of apology is anathema to many doctors, who according to a study, still cling to the White Coat of Silence in covering up their mistakes and those of their colleagues.
A couple dramatic examples from the Times editorial, which follows a May 18th story on the subject:
At the University of Illinois, for example, of 37 cases where the hospital acknowledged a preventable error and apologized, only one patient filed suit. At the University of Michigan Health System, existing claims and lawsuits dropped from 262 in August 2001 to 83 in August 2007, and legal costs fell by two-thirds.
This drop in claims comes as no shock to me, since one of the primary reasons people make that first call to a lawyer is anger at being mistreated or being unable to get information. That doesn’t mean they have a viable lawsuit of course — any decent medical malpractice attorney will decline 95% or more of the inquiries — but it is often the reason for the call.
I wrote about this subject a year ago (see: More Doctors Encouraged To Say “I’m Sorry”) and said:
I’ve always believed, based on the manner in which calls come in to my office, that poor communication (bad bedside manner) is the primary reason patients call attorneys. They are angry, or confused, or both.
So empirical evidence is now supporting the anecdotal evidence that I have acquired over the past 20+ years of medical malpractice litigation.
Just as in politics, and so many other things, the cover-up is often much worse than the initial mistake. Because while the accident may be negligence, the cover-up is an intentional act of deception. And when that deception comes from someone that you have trusted your life with, the sense of betrayal is profound. There are few emotions in this world that can compete with the sense of betrayal.
So if doctors and hospitals want to put me out of business, then say you’re sorry and act like the decent people you likely are when things are going right. But if you want to keep me practicing medical malpractice litigation, then keep turning your backs on the patients when things go wrong, and let them make that upset and angry phone call to me.