In our previous post, we continued our discussion on the University of Michigan Health System’s approach to patient safety and handling of medical error. As we noted last time, this approach is characterized, among other things, by efforts to increase communication between physicians and patients when errors occur and by a commitment to resolving disputes out of court where possible.
It is worth pointing out that many people injured by health care professionals do not have the benefit of prompt and clear communication of those errors. In many cases, patients only learn the truth about medical errors after they have already become so frustrated about the situation that they are convinced of the need to litigate. Patients, of course, can and should be proactive in communicating their concerns and needs to their physician, but the brunt of the responsibility with communicating errors falls on the physician.
It is also worth pointing out, though, that litigation is not always the best solution for an injured patient. The cost of pursuing a medical malpractice case must always be weighed against the likely payoff, and even cases which involve genuine physician negligence may not ultimately be worth pursuing. It depends on the circumstances of the case. One important factor in the worth of a case is the amount of potential damages involved. A plaintiff who has little income may be able to obtain a fair amount in medical costs in compensation for their injury, but very little in lost wages or pain and suffering.
In other cases, pursuing a claim would likely result in a payout, but the best solution may simply be to work toward a reasonable settlement. This allows both parties to save money and avoid a public dispute, though its value of as an approach depends on the goals of each party and their willingness to cooperate. Patients who are seriously harmed should not necessarily settle for a low-ball settlement.
Patients who are injured by medical errors should always consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney before committing to any course of action or inaction. Doing so allows them to understand their options, clarify their goals, and to receive guidance in selecting the best way to proceed in their situation.