Is it a sign of guilt when a doctor apologizes to the patient? Or is it a real expression of the doctor's feelings? And if they do apologize, what does that mean for the patient?
A 2005 report by Harvard Medical School stated that some of the major teaching hospitals are now recommending that their doctors apologize for their medical errors. Is that a good move? It may be. The hope for having doctors apologize, is they gain the trust of the patient and the patient can settle quicker and easier (and cheaper for the hospital or doctor's insurance company, of course).
So much of this depends on the doctor, nurse or hospital. Many times, hospitals have risk managers and professionals in that department who meet with families after a serious injury or death - their job is to quickly limit the hospital's liability (the amount they would have to pay to the patient or family because of the hospital's mistake).
Individual doctors who have treated a patient for years are probably more likely to offer a true apology when they make a mistake.
Some doctors, nurses and hospitals will do and say anything - blame the patient, another provider, and deny, deny, deny that they caused or contributed to the patient's serious injury or death.
In Lexington, Ky, the Veterans Administration Hospital was the first hospital to implement doctors apologizing for medical errors. It was reported that after having two big lawsuits for preventable medical mistakes, they decided to institute "a policy for apologizing for all medical errors and offering fair, upfront compensation to patients". It seemed crazy at first, according to leaders at other hospitals, but in 1999 the Lexington VA Hospital reported that they had the lowest malpractice payouts for VA hospitals. Soon other hospitals started doing the same thing, and received positive feedback.
We don't see that at D.C. hospitals - they typically make the patient or family file a lawsuit, engage in discovery, take depositions of all of the doctors and nurses, engage experts in different specialties and either take the case to trial or settle the case after extensive litigation.
from saying you feel bad that something happened as opposed to being liable for it.
What does it mean in court? As a practical matter, most healthcare providers "forget" the apology, and it's usually not admissable, or it turns into a distracting "he said, she said" battle.
We don't rely on these apologies, we just prove our case. So whether a doctor apologizes may not make a difference in the malpractice case, but it is comforting to most people, even if it comes at the end of the litigation.
There are currently 36 states that have apology laws, so a lot of people are talking about this or believe its a good idea.
Medical malpractice lawyers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia do everything they can for a patient's case to get that family the resources they need to take care of their loved one who can't take care of himself because of a medical mistake that should never have happened.
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