Apology Key When Dealing With Medical Error

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Accountability and saying sorry are key to communication with patients involved in a medical error situation.
Accountability and saying sorry are key to communication with patients involved in a medical error situation.

HealthDay News -- Apology laws, which prohibit certain statements or expressions of sympathy by a physician from being admissible in a lawsuit, are unnecessary if physicians understand the importance of saying sorry and offering accountability after an error, according to an article published in Medical Economics.

The article addresses physician communication after a medical error, noting the importance of saying sorry and accountability. Although apology laws may help physicians feel more comfortable saying sorry, they are not necessary to avoid lawsuits.

According to the article, physicians and hospitals should say they are sorry for the error, and promise to undertake a review. They should also offer practical help to the family, such as getting them food, a hotel room, or providing transportation. In addition, they should stay connected to the family, following up regularly -- especially once the review is complete. Families should be offered fair recompense if an error occurred; families may ask for the cost of rehabilitation or lost pay, but rarely ask for large monetary awards. If these steps are followed, apology laws are unnecessary. 

The University of Michigan created a program to address the challenges of wrong interpretations of physicians' expressions of empathy and sympathy, and recommend following up conversations with a written summary.

"Good patient-physician relationships and open disclosure are the keys to responding successfully to a bad outcome," according to the article.

Reference

  1. Hertz BT. Why empathy may be the best risk management strategy. Medical Economics.2015
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