Early reporting of medical mistakes can help physicians avoid medical malpractice lawsuits

side note: This is a great article for physicians to read. The early reporting model espoused in the article is not dissimilar to what is commonly referred to as the “I’m Sorry” model where a physician makes a statement of empathy to the injured patient. These models are gaining endorsement because it has been statistically shown that honesty and empathy go along way in avoiding lawsuits. Too often, the patient sues because they feel abandoned or dismissed by their doctor, not simply because of the adverse outcome. That said, prior to using the apology or early reporting model, check with your medical malpractice insurance company. Each company has its own model, and violating that model could abbrogate your policy.

Imagine for a second that you’re a physician who is conducting a lifesaving procedure on a patient and you make mistake.

You know that a mistake was made and you’re concerned with caring for the patient. But because you’re worried about the damage to your reputation and a huge increase in your malpractice insurance if you’re sued for negligence, you decide not to tell the patient about it.

Afterward, you tell the patient that the surgery went well, even though it clearly did not.

Weeks later, you’re alerted by the patient that he his suing you for the mistake you made. The patient is understandably upset and tells you that he is going to do everything in their power to make sure you pay for your mistake.

You notify your medical malpractice insurer and, because you’re paying for a hefty premium to the company, you expect that the insurer will come to an expedient resolution with the patient.

Months go by, though, and you’re tormented by the mistake you made. You’re worried about the future of your practice as your legal fees pile up and your mailbox fills with letters from the patient’s lawyers about your alleged negligence. Despite this, your insurance company tells you to be patient and let the legal process play out before the claim is settled. In most cases, they do not allow you to have a role in the decision. In the end, typically about 1-3 years later, the case is settled in court; but the damage has already been done to your reputation and has taken a considerable toll on your mental and financial health.

Now imagine, though, that during the original procedure you know a mistake was made, but instead of telling your patient afterward the surgery was a success, you tell the patient that an unavoidable mistake was made.
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