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Saying 'Im Sorry' results in fewer malpractice suits

One prominent physician remembers the day he made a terrible mistake. He also learned the dramatic effect an apology can have. In his 30 years as an infectious disease specialist, his patients ran the gamut of ailments. But the professor of a leading medical center will never forget the error he made and hopes others will learn from its lesson, just as he has. Simple mix-ups occur on a day-to-day basis in all places of work. In the medical profession, the repercussions can be devastating.

He recalls two patients with the same name who visited his private practice. One came for a routine check-up, the other suffered from a blood abnormality. After he ran blood tests on both women, somehow the healthy woman received a misdiagnosis that she had a serious illness, and the patient with blood disorders was given a healthy diagnosis.

The healthy woman had been shocked at first, but when the renowned specialist apologized profusely and admitted the clinic had made an error, she gave him a hug. When he notified the sick woman of her actual results, she was upset but not devastated.

Studies show that when doctors apologize for mistakes, it lowers the likelihood that a malpractice suit will be filed. Many medical reports have been written on the subject.

An Illinois-based consulting firm has been aware of this phenomenon and provided training and workshops to health care professionals, teaching them there is much power in admission of an error and apologizing for it. The founder of the company states he started the business with the goal to reduce malpractice lawsuits, as well as erroneous medical decisions. More and more agencies are calling for the implementation of electronic record-keeping, designed to decrease incidents of human error in medicine.

The medical professor rectified his mistake by apologizing and reviewing policies with his staff. Although his mistake occurred over 10 years ago, he still double checks himself and chart information.

While electronic lists and charts can decrease errors performed by humans, they will not completely eliminate them. The Hippocratic Oath still emphasizes humanity in medical situations, along with a personal and professional effort to keep the human element in order to avoid a missed diagnosis.

Source:, "Athens medical professor learns power of an apology" Ian Branam, Dec. 10, 2013

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