Communication about medical errors and medical malpractice litigation, P.1

Communication is an essential ingredient when it comes to effective medical care and patient satisfaction. The reasons for this should make sense to those who have ever been involved in the medical system—which is all of us. On the front end, good communication between patients and physicians—as well as other caregivers—can help reduce mistakes.

On the back end, good communication can help address the consequences of mistakes in care, as well as help patients to have a better understanding of the outcome of care, even when the outcome is not as good as it should have been. Unfortunately, the research shows that physicians and hospitals are often hesitant to communicate with a patient about errors when they occur.

Non-profit news group ProPublica found in recent research that patients who suffer harm from medical care often do not receive communication from the provider or facility about the harm. When such communication does happen, it is often because the patient or the patient’s family agitated for the communication. Most of the time, patients who suffer from medical errors do not receive apologies from the provider or facility.

There are understandable reasons why physicians and hospitals would want to avoid admitting mistakes. For one thing, doing so is often perceived as opening the door to litigation. With the costs of medical malpractice litigation being so high and with the impact such litigation can have on insurance premiums, providers and facilities tend to want to ignore or downplay any errors that occur.

This is unfortunate, since it is becoming better known that effective communication about errors can often help reduce the costs of malpractice litigation. In our next post, we’ll continue speaking about this issue.



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