Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Is it Risky for a Doctor to Say, "I'm sorry"?
The movement for physicians to say "I'm sorry" when things go wrong in patient care has been under debate for the past few years. In the past, physicians were advised to never admit to a problem or to apologize for clinical errors with the thought that it would lead to more lawsuits. Saying "I'm sorry" might be taken by a lawyer as an admission of guilt and malpractice. Attorneys advised, "Say nothing" but that left patients with unanswered questions and often the feeling that the doctor just didn't care.
Numerous studies have shown that patients want physicians to disclose harmful errors and they want information about what happened, why it happened and if something has been done to keep it from happening again. There has been a gap between what patients want and what actually occurs.
Physicians are not trained to disclose mistakes and being stoic is rewarded more than empathy in medical training. Many lawsuits are filed against doctors because of anger so the silent approach that physicians have taken may actually be backfiring.
There is a group called "Sorry Works" that teaches doctors and nurses to be empathetic, caring and stay connected with patients and families when an adverse event occurs. The honest approach reduces anger and blame and often removes the urge to pursue litigation.
Thirty-five states have passed apology immunity laws that say "sorry" cannot be used as evidence of wrong doing.
There is certainly no way anyone can prevent a lawsuit. Saying "I'm sorry", without admitting guilt should be in the doctors professional code of ethics and behavior.
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