Poll: Should doctors apologize after a medical error?

Despite the fact that almost 100,000 patients die from medical mistakes each year, only 30 percent of those errors are ever disclosed to patients. Saying “I’m sorry” is morally and ethically proper. It re-establishes trust and empathy between doctor and patient, and makes it easier for everyone involved to learn from the incident. Hospitals that have instituted full disclosure programs have seen a decrease in the number of malpractice lawsuits and a savings in legal costs.

But is it advisable for doctors to fully disclose their mistakes? For years, lawyers told physicians to “deny and defend,” but the protection offered to doctors varies, and is less than ideal in many cases. Thirty-five states have enacted laws making apologies inadmissible in court, but saying “sorry” can result in an increase in malpractice premiums – often by tens of thousands of dollars a year, if not outright denial of malpractice insurance.

So, while hospitals seem to benefit from apologies, it’s not clear whether saying “I’m sorry” is in doctors’ best interest.

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