Do physician apologies make it less likely for patients to sue for medical malpractice?

Not necessarily.

That’s the finding from a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

What the researchers did was simulate three scenarios of medical mistakes, “a year-long delay in noticing a malignant-looking lesion on a mammogram, a chemotherapy overdose 10 times the intended amount and a slow response to pages by a pediatric surgeon for a patient who eventually codes and is rushed to emergency surgery.”

Varying degrees of physician responses were then portrayed by actors, which ranged from a full apology to a partial apology to no apology at all. A questionnaire was then given to 200 adults who watched the videos.

Although viewers gave the doctors who apologized much higher ratings, and were more likely to refer other patients to them, their intent to sue remained unchanged.

There’s no question that apologizing after being responsible for a medical error is the right thing to do. But thinking that it will reduce litigation may be far-fetched, and indeed, sorry may not work in that regard.


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