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Doctors Learn To Apologize Cuts Down On Lawsuits

Posted on August 22, 2008

This doesn’;t happen very often. If it did, there would be fewer medical malpractice lawsuits, and that would be okay. 

When the chief of staff at a Veterans Hospital in Tampa told the family of a man who died he was sorry, he broke the mold.

Doctors rarely say they are sorry, even when they make horrible mistakes.

There is a national movement afoot to change that. It’;s called Sorry Works! Coalition and its founder Doug Wojcieszak calls it a “massive cultural shift.”

“For decades, the typical approach of hospitals and their insurance carriers was shut up, and literally break off communications with the family” he tells the Tampa Tribune.  

 The fear is that people will sense weakness and take advantage of the apology to use against the institution in a lawsuit. 

But so often we hear what people really want is an apology for an error and an acknowledgment that sometimes people are human.  That alone would cut down on the number of lawsuits filed. 

Unfortunately, wrongdoers, whether they are making a defective drug, a medical mistake, or are at fault for an accident, too often don’;t have the courage to take that step. 

Wojcieszak says that “Everybody thinks patients and families are out for blood, out to sue. The truth is, they want somebody to level with them, and they want to make sure it doesn’;t happen again.” 

He cites the University of Michigan whose health care system lowered its legal costs in half from $65,000 to $35,000 per case after instituting an apology policy.

He says that an apology must be immediate, sincere and include some reparations and assurances that it won’;t happen again.

In the case of a Tarpon Springs, Florida resident Richard Stecher who died at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center after a perforated bowl obstruction, the chief of staff apologized to Stecher’;s longtime partner.  That wasn’;t enough.

“They weren’;t sincere at all,” Mary Nicholl said citing the hospital’;s wait of three weeks before issuing an apology. 

We at Farah & Farah have always believed the medical profession needs to do a better job of policing itself.  Policing itself, instilling a checks and balance system to minimize medical errors, and when mistakes are made, issuing an apology, will go a long way to cutting down on legal actions.  

If you are the victim of medical malpractice and do not receive an apology, call us to determine what your rights are under the law.