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Saying Sorry in Medical Malpractice: Does it Work?

  • By Phil Press Institute 
  • Category: Smart Answers 
  • Comments (0) 

Medical MalpracticeWhether people like or not, medical errors can happen. When they do, they have far-reaching consequences for both the patient and the doctor. So, when doctors do decide to disclose their medical error, they can do so through a sincere apology.

The Power of Saying Sorry

Apologies are statements said by the offending party. It has three elements: recognizing the mistake, taking responsibility for the action, and properly conveying a sincere sense of regret for causing the error.

Most apologies conclude with promises to avoid repeating the behavior to prevent the error from happening again. In some cases, apologies can influence the manner by which people make judgments. This, in effect, reduces the blame on the offending party.

Doctors and Apologies

Medical errors, such as cerebral palsy caused by medical malpractice, affect doctors the most. Aside from feeling guilty about the harm they’ve inflicted on their patients, they’re also scared of the consequences of their actions. They’re afraid that their patients will stop trusting them and fear losing respect from their colleagues.

Sadly, physicians often choose keep the information from their patient, believing that it’s for the best. Some are even hesitant to provide compensation, unless the patient files a lawsuit.

Apologies and Patients

The primary victims of medical malpractice are the patients. Surprisingly, a majority of them understand their situation should the physician say sorry. They believe that this could help prevent other patients from experiencing the consequences of the doctor’s actions in the future.

One study asked patients to evaluate various scenarios describing medical errors from the perspective of the wronged patient. A stunning 98 percent desired some acknowledgment of even minor errors. Furthermore, they would be less upset if the doctor simply said sorry instead of trying to write off his or her mistake. Doing the latter would only add to the distress of the patient, in fact.

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Sorry seems to be the hardest word to say to patients. It’s not easy to own up to a mistake. An apology, however, can greatly influence a medical malpractice case and prevent matters from getting worse.

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