Does Saying ‘I Am Sorry’ Make Malpractice Lawsuits Go Away?

Does making a medical mistake mean never having to say you are sorry?

No, it is just the opposite. Apparently, it is all about saying you are sorry. That is what my surgical mentor taught me and it definitely worked. One time I made a serious mistake and I approached the patient and his family and said those simple words, “I am sorry.” They found no fault. We worked through the problem together and solved it. All was forgiven and they appreciated my sincere efforts.

In the January issue of the Des Moines University Alumni Magazine, there was a fascinating article about this same subject with a reference to an unusual website: http://www.sorryworks.net/disclosepolicy.phtml

It is packed with information about how to handle those uncomfortable situations when a mistake has been made. There are sections with headlines like “Four Things Every Doctor Should Know About Disclosure.”

I will give you a hint. They recommend that disclosure is a good thing for all of us, including the doctors, hospitals and insurers. Data shows that a good apology reduces lawsuits. Who would have thought it?

Of course, good communication and a great informed consent are important keys. Do not wait to offer a sincere “I am sorry.” Timeliness is everything. Timing is also key in making contact with your team (your lawyer, your insurer, etc.). Do not wait to let them know about the mistake as well.

The Sorry Works! Coalition has a startling belief. Namely, this coalition feels that the malpractice crisis is not about medical errors or legal problems but is actually a customer service issue.

This coalition provides training tools to help implement disclosure programs and keep them running successfully. After all, it is not in our nature to offer a mea culpa.



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