Should Doctors Say “I’m Sorry” to Reduce the Number of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

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, Should Doctors Say “I’m Sorry” to Reduce the Number of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

In an article called, “Why is it so hard for doctors to apologize?” in The Boston Globe they said, “Fixing a system built on blame and revenge will require bold ways of analyzing mistakes and a radical embrace of openness.”  They found some interesting cases of how far saying “I’m sorry” and acknowledging mistakes can go when it comes to doctor/patient relationships.

After losing a premature baby due to necrotizing enterocolitis, a devastating intestinal complication that affects premature babies, just 8 days after delivery at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, bereft mother Danielle Bellerose, was looking for answers to her question, “Why had no one diagnosed her daughter’s condition sooner?”

After three requests to meet with Beth Israel caregivers and a series of broken promises no meeting ever materialized. When Danielle contacted the hospital to get her daughter’s medical records and a clerk said that no such patient had ever been treated (a problem later attributed to a paperwork error) Danielle started to fear the hospital was hiding behind a mistake and retained a malpractice attorney experienced in handling birth injury cases.

Her attorneys obtained her daughter’s medical records and a doctor reviewed them and cited that the baby suffered a “premature and preventable death” from necrotizing enterocolitis that occurred as a “direct result” of “deviations from the accepted standards of care.

Danielle Bellerose filed a lawsuit against six of the doctors and nurses who had treated her daughter. Danielle later said, “If someone had just talked to me, none of this ever would have happened,” but the silence from the doctors and nurses not only propelled her to sue, but the lack of remorse fueled her passion for justice on behalf of her daughter. The Bellerose family was awarded the largest malpractice award in the state that year.

Another attorney agreed that sometimes patients just want to be heard and acknowledged. His plaintiff had suffered a major infection after abdominal surgery and communication between her and her doctor came to halt during the six years between the surgery and the trial. After listening to her doctors’ testimony in court she realized he’d done his best. After winning the case, she told her surgeon that, “If I’d known everything I know now, I would never have sued you.”

The sued physician took her words to heart and as executive director for clinical safety at a major teaching hospital, he has revised the hospital’s medical liability program. Now, claims are reviewed by impartial medical providers and in cases where a mistake caused harm, doctors are encouraged to apologize face to face, and the hospital quickly offers reasonable cash settlements.

His results have been good. In the old malpractice system — one that doctors and lawyers call “deny and defend” — parties on both sides of a case would immediately gear themselves for an ugly courtroom battle.  In this physician’s new system, five impartial doctors reviewed a recent possible malpractice case files and concluded her physician had made a mistake. Within three months, the patient and doctors talked to each other during a heart-felt two-hour meeting. The doctors explained the situation and assured the patient she was now cured and her lawyer said his role during the process changed from “warrior to counselor.” The patient turned to her lawyer and told him that she felt so good after that meeting that she didn’t care if she got a dime.

Why the change of heart? She said, “I felt like I had finally been heard. I can’t even describe how euphoric I felt when I left that meeting.”

If you or a loved on have been a victim of medical malpractice, contact our attorneys to discuss your case.

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