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Could an apology really be the best medicine?

Patients who are victims of a doctor or hospital mistake can be angry, confused and frustrated. Often, they have a right to pursue a medical malpractice claim against a negligent party. How do the doctors feel about this? Some say they too get angry, confused and frustrated. Rather than denying fault, however, some doctors are trying a new tactic in handling negligence or malpractice claims: They are apologizing.

In hospitals across the country, some doctors are choosing to take a more amicable route to resolving issues related to perceived errors. Instead of deflecting blame, getting angry and cutting off communication, doctors are opting to work with the patient to determine a solution.

Instead of ignoring or demonizing patients, doctors in some hospitals are encouraged to share information with the patient. They should disclose mistakes that may have been made and then apologize. Then, instead of taking the case to court, the sides agree to a settlement.

This may be a positive change. Patients are very vulnerable at the hospital, and must trust their physician. When they feel as if something went wrong, the pain can be both emotional and physical. A doctor who is willing to take accountability and discuss treatment options going forward may go a long way in reestablishing that trust.

All this is not to say that patients should always just accept an apology and be done with it. Working to get a sufficient settlement for the suffering that a patient has endured is vital. And while an apology can certainly help a patient's peace of mind, there is still the financial aspect that must be addressed. In these instances, an attorney who understands medical malpractice will certainly be able to help determine what is appropriate.

Source: boston.com, "One doctor's take on malpractice policy that calls for disclosure, apology, and often a settlement," Chelsea Conaboy, April 23, 2012

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