Med Mal: Sometimes The Best Defense Is … No Defense

May 19, 2008

A lot of attention is being given to yesterday’s New York Times piece about doctors and hospitals who apologize, ‘fess up, and correct their mistakes when they make medical errors. For medical professionals who have been trained to “deny and defend,” the whole idea seems counterintuitive. It’s a natural instinct for people to want to hide their mistakes. And as Michael O’Hare points out, it’s also something attorneys have been telling their medical malpractice clients to do for a long time.

I’ve written about the Sorry Works! Coalition before, and they’re mentioned in the Times article. That’s the group that’s dedicated to becoming “the nation’s leading advocacy organization for disclosure, apology (when appropriate), and upfront compensation (when necessary) after adverse medical events.” The Times suggests that there is now a data trail for the medical disclosure movement. Reporter Kevin Sack writes:

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.

O’Hare tells an anecdote about working with a hospital whose in-house counsel promoted a similar policy 25 years, with very positive results. That sounds right: During my years inside the insurance industry I saw similar examples of the seemingly counterintuitive. Sometimes ‘fessing up is the best defense.

And there’s a political movement to institutionalize medical disclosure. Sack quotes the director of Sorry Works! as saying that “34 states have enacted laws making apologies for medical errors inadmissible in courteven require that patients be notified of serious unanticipated outcomes.” He observes that Democratic Presidential candidates Clinton and Obama cosponsored a similar resolution in the U.S. Senate, only to see it die in a GOP-controlled committee.

This should be an ideal topic for bipartisan support, given the Republican penchant for criticizing excessive med mal settlements. So why would Republicans kill a bill like this one? I don’t get it.

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One Response to “Med Mal: Sometimes The Best Defense Is … No Defense”

  1. Mr. Trudell Says:

    doctors lie by omission.
    most of them are only pillpushers.
    they don’t know how to tell a patient the truth.


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