Communication Between Medical Professionals and Patients Can Limit Medical Errors

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that medical errors come in many forms. The civil justice system does not necessarily list specific medical actions which automatically leads to liability. Instead the law generally prohibits negligent conduct generally-which can include a wide range of actions. However, there are certainly some trends that are often lead to the most prolonged costly medical malpractice cases. For example, as an article in Guam PDN News mentioned late this week, at the root of much medical negligence are communication breakdowns by the doctors.

The story explains that while some insurance companies advise not talking to patients when an error has been committed in order to avoid a medical malpractice lawsuit, this recommendation is incredibly misguided. Of course, it is no surprise that insurers would want to keep secrecy involved in the process. Insurers are almost always interested in the bottom line-making money for their shareholders in as many different ways as possible. Of course in public the insurance industry usually tries to present the face of an industry that is only concerned about helping those in need and providing as much support as possible in times of tragedy. Yet, when push comes to shove the industry is usually willing to do whatever possible to avoid paying out claims. This is a large part of the reason why tort reforms efforts are pushed so hard by insurance industry proponents. Tort reform efforts are essentially system-wide attempts for insurance companies to pay less money when those they insure make mistakes that hurt others.

Of course, as the article notes, there are obvious ethical issues behind hiding instances of errors. Instead, the logical approach would always be to admit the error, issue an apology, and then try to compensate the victim for the injury. Any medical malpractice lawyer knows that the legal process can be made much more efficient if those responsible for errors engaged in open and honest communication with those who suffer injury as a result of misconduct.

According to a University of Michigan Health System communication between doctors and patients leads to decreases in prolonged medical malpractice lawsuits. The results of the survey actually led many to support national “apology laws” which would seek to require use of apologies and accountability as a way to avoid prolonged litigation while still providing necessary redress for families. In 2005 there was a national push to enact an apology law known as “MediC Act.” Though it never passed, it spurred action in over 36 states.

Honestly admitting mistakes is important for accountability and improvement purposes. When doctors admit mistakes there is a much greater chance that the error will spur changes which prevent future problems. Most errors are part of systematic problems at the facility. For example, a medication error could be rooted in a wide range of problems from ordering, transcribing, dispensing, delivering, and administering the drug. At the end of the day, admitting a mistake is not only the right thing to do ethically, but it is the smart thing to do to improve patient care.

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