Liability and Adverse Medical Events

Stressed PhysicianThe Clinical Advisor had an interesting article recently all about liability and adverse medical events. There is no doubt about it that there is often an unspoken rule in the medical culture that silence is the best way to handle a medical error or adverse medical event. But is it?

Frequently nothing is said because often physicians believe that if the adverse medical event is disclosed, it might be considered as an admission of guilt, and then lead to a medical liability lawsuit. They view it as opening themselves up to medical liability exposure. But, if you look at it from the patient’s point of view, the silence “…seems like proof of guilt.” And, often the silent treatment leaves patients feeling abandoned at an already difficult and stressful time. It just seems to breed more problems.

But, this is a complicated issue with no easy answers. We understand that physicians are working in an era of defensive, “cover your butt” medicine in a rabidly litigious society where many people feel that “someone has to pay” (literally) for every error. And, we understand that physicians not only have to answer to themselves and their patients, they also have to answer to their employers and their medical liability insurance companies.

So, we suggest that you ask your agent how your medical liability insurance company wants you to handle errors or adverse medical events. And, we also suggest that you ask your institution how they want you to handle them as well. You might be surprised. We are noticing a slowly growing trend towards the use of apology –from states passing “I’m Sorry” laws to institutions adopting aggressive error disclosure and apology practices. We can’t say what the best practice is for you, but encourage you to find out what those around you recommend and why.

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