Friday, May 30, 2008

I'm Sorry?

The NYTimes' 'Doctors Start to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Long Before ‘See You in Court’' is reassuring to me in a funny way. I have always thought the malpractice system in the U.S. made no sense, but it's nice to see some progress being made on this front. I don't think all lawsuits are frivolous: patients injured due to negligence or incompetence should receive care and compensation, but it takes real skill to separate unavoidable mistakes from true negligence. Having an open and frank discussion is the first step in that direction:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.

Despite some projections that disclosure would prompt a flood of lawsuits, hospitals are reporting decreases in their caseloads and savings in legal costs. Malpractice premiums have declined in some instances, though market forces may be partly responsible.

Hopefully I'll never be placed in this situation, but I think if I am, this seems to be the only conscientious way to approach my error. I guess I should just pray that the patient understands that medicine is a human endeavor and thus, subject to the same human failings of any other field.

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