There have been a number of studies that show medical malpractice claims could be reduced if doctors and hospitals were more honest, and simply admitted errors and apologized to patients when they occur. One of the latest was reported in USAToday. Perhaps if enough of these studies are published doctors will take the hint. Here are excerpts from the article:
Ask doctors what concerns them most, and chances are they’ll say, “medical malpractice.” A recent New England Journal of Medicine study found that 75% of doctors who practice psychiatry, pediatrics or family medicine will be sued during their career. Neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons and obstetricians have it worse, as virtually all of them will be sued before they finish practicing medicine.
The medical malpractice debate often pits physicians — who say the threat of lawsuits pushes them to order expensive, unnecessary tests — against lawyers who believe that lawsuits are needed to hold doctors accountable.
How can physicians avoid the courtroom? If an error was made, many insurers advise physicians not to talk to patients. That’s wrong. Physicians should disclose their mistake, apologize and, when appropriate and through mutual agreement, compensate injured patients.
For more than a decade, the University of Michigan Health System has used such a program, and its incidence of malpractice claims has since dropped 36%.
This approach should be spread nationwide. Actually, in 2005, then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama co-sponsored the National MEDiC Act, which among other things would have implemented apology laws throughout the U.S. Although the measure never became law, at least 36 states have passed legislation protecting apologies from being used against doctors in court.
Doctors also must create and maintain open lines of communication with patients, which is critical to preventing lawsuits in the first place. Doctors have to better explain, and patients better understand, that not all adverse outcomes are due to physician errors. Although the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 seminal report, “To Err is Human,” concluded that medical errors caused up to 100,000 patient deaths a year, 90% of those deaths were attributed to systemwide procedural failures at medical institutions.
There’s no panacea for eliminating mistakes, but a starting point is clearly communication. Better doctor-patient exchanges improve medicine, and when patients and their families are kept in the loop, they also are less likely to pursue a lawsuit. And, then, if errors are made, doctors should apologize and work with the patient and, when necessary, their lawyer, to find a compromise.
Transparency is the key to an open, trusting and healthy doctor-patient relationship.