Something as simple as an apology allows medical professionals to help diffuse the anger and betrayal felt by patients and their families when something has gone wrong. It allows us to show empathy for our patients’ suffering.
Empathy helps build trust, and trust is crucial to the doctor-patient relationship. Trust helps our patients take our advice to heart. And it helps avoid the appearance of impropriety and the impression that we are somehow trying to cover up our own mistakes by remaining silent.
Several studies have shown that the underlying motivation for medical-malpractice lawsuits is not greed or an attempt to profit from a bad outcome, but a need to understand what went wrong and for the medical staff to acknowledge it.
When the emotions of patients and families are acknowledged and constructively addressed, money becomes a secondary issue. Where apologies are encouraged, there have been substantial savings in hospital litigation costs.
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This year, the state legislature had the ability to take on this issue and bring us in line with the rest of the nation. Senate Bill 85 would have banned the use of expressions of sympathy in medical-malpractice lawsuits. It would allow what Kentuckians would hope physicians would do unrestricted by the fear of litigation.
Dr. Curtis Cary