Medicine Means You Never Have to Say You’re Sorry

Just as hospitals are encouraging us to apologize for our mistakes, comes a warning from Steven I. Kern, JD.  He cautions that admitting errors may result in loss of malpractice coverage.  He states :

For example, many malpractice insurance policies include a clause that allows the carrier to deny coverage if you do anything that adversely affects its ability to provide a defense.

He relates that saying sorry is basically an admission of wrong doing, and that anyone who hears you say that you are sorry can be used as a witness to testify against you in a malpractice suit.  Mr. Kern also notes that the push by hospitals for physicians to admit to mistakes may actually be based on an effort by the hospital to shift liability away from the hospital and toward the physician.  Yikes!  He also notes that saying sorry can lead to sanctions from peers, family wrath and economic loss.   What he recommends is that first, notify your “health care” attorney, and then together decide if you should notify your insurance carrier.  He then states that the three of you decide if it is appropriate to say “sorry.”  After that, the three of you will craft an appropriate response “to best communicate your regret in a way that is likely to make matters better, not worse.”

Mr. Kerns advice is good, but sad.  How pathetic that we live in a society where admitting we are human and that we have made a mistake is fraught with danger.   He does note that 35 states have variations on ‘apology laws’,  which he describes as “exempting expressions of sympathy and empathy to exempting admissions of fault.”  However, I still would check with your malpractice carrier first before making a move.

As he notes:

Unlike in church, confession doesn’t necessarily lead to absolution in the world of medicine.

I don’t know about you, but last time I checked, I was only human.  Crazy place, this world.

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2 Responses

  1. Disgusting. Actually a good litmus test. If the idea of this disgusts you, you are a traditionalist. If you believe seeking counsel prior to speaking the truth is the right move, welcome to our Brave New World.

    And then the same folks will wonder why this country went out with the bedpan…

  2. What doctor in his right mind would admit to making a medical error. This is probably one of the reasons why malpractice insurance costs are so high.

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