“Apology” Programs Following Medical Errors

A few healthcare facilities have recently considered a new approach to instances of medical errors. Instead of clamming up and trying to hide any suggestion of medical malpractice, some practitioners are encouraged to admit the error and an offer an apology. Considering that many families are forced to engage in prolonged legal battles just to get at the truth about what happened in their case, our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys appreciate that this openness is a step forward.

However, these programs are not without their complications. A recent WBUR story on the apology programs included a discussion with a law professor who discussed a few issues to be concerned about with these programs.

The primary issue is whether some of the finer components of these plans are simply another way to confuse patients, manipulating them into taking actions against their interest. As the professor explained, after these apologies are given the patient will likely be contacted by a “risk manager” from the insurance company or hospital who will try to get the patient to talk about their injury. Under some plans the conversation with the risk manager would include admitting the error and usually an offer of compensation. Under those circumstances our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys understand that patients are likely to assume that the offer is a fair one that provides proper redress, taking into account the losses they sustained as a result of the mistake.

But that is unlikely to be the case.

That is not to say that this program doesn’t work or that the outcome will always be against the patient’s interests and wishes. It is simply important to be aware that these sorts of possibilities exist.

At the end of the day, there is still no replacement for a patient and their family at least getting tailored advice about what their other options are in any given case.

Apologies are still a good thing in these situations. There is no reason why doctors and patients need to put up barriers after medical malpractice is made that prevent honest and fair interactions. Hopefully more hospitals and medical centers enact policies that more freely encourage this sort of genuine exchange.

At the same time, patients should never forget that they need an individualized assessment of their own interests following these mistakes being made.

For example the professor in this case believe that these apology programs can work well but should include a reminder to patient’s about the need to seek out individual counsel. He offers that during the initial meeting between patient, doctor, and risk manager, the legal team should say, “Look, we have potentially different and adverse interests in this because there’s legal matter to deal with-the medical malpractice issues-and you should seek legal counsel.”
That simply reminder can ensure that patient’s aren’t being manipulated into doing something without fully understanding the legal ramifications. In that way, there may be more openness, honesty, and efficiency in the resolution of these matters without having patients lose their rights.

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