More doctors, medical facilities learning value of sincere apology, P.1

Mistakes occur all the time in medical care. Some of them are serious while others are relatively minor, having little or no long-term effect. As patients, we expect that our physicians will help guide us through the medical decision-making process, and this includes helping us to assess the effectiveness of treatments, surgeries, protocols and procedures to which we may be submitting.

One of the unfortunate realities in medical care nowadays is that physicians who are confronted with patient questions and concerns about the quality of medical care tend to avoid open communication. The reflex, too often, is to pull back from disclosure, denying that any mistakes were made and defending the actions taken by medical staff. 

The defensive posture taken by physicians is unfortunate, because it leaves patients with unanswered questions and a sense that information is being hidden from them, that the medical team caring for them does not have their best interests at heart. This is harmful to the doctor-patient relationship and undermines physicians’ ability to provide the best possible care.

Some physicians and health care facilities do, of course, recognize the value of open communication and offering sincere apologies when mistakes are made. Experience has shown that offering an apology is beneficial even when minor mistakes occur in the course of health care. The University of Michigan Health System, of course, is well-known for its policy of replacing a deny-and-defend approach with one of transparency with patients.

Because of the benefits of transparency in medical care, including a reduction in medical malpractice costs, more and more health care facilities and physicians groups are choosing to adopt such an approach to doctor-patient communications.

We’ll continue looking at this issue in our next post.

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