Is an apology enough to cover for medical negligence?

Friday December 20, 2013

Words have power. A simple apology can end a misunderstanding and soothe hurt feelings. However, in a medical setting, will an apology be enough for a Connecticut patient who suffered from a health practitioner’s medical negligence?

In the case of one physician, saying sorry was liberating. For nearly 30 years, the doctor treated numerous patients suffering from various ailments. But a decade ago, he made an error that, to this day, he cannot forget. It was a simple mistake. Two patients visited his practice almost at the same time. They were unrelated, but had the same last name. One came in for a scheduled check-up, the other for a blood abnormality. Both needed blood tests. That is when the mix-up happened.

The doctor had to tell a perfectly healthy patient that she had a serious illness. Luckily, the patient noticed that the folder that contained the test result had a different birth date. Realizing the mistake, the doctor apologized profusely. The woman accepted the apology and even gave the doctor a hug. Since the mix-up the doctor, together with his staff, has diligently verified patient information and test results. And he has been more careful, especially in critical situations.

Apologizing for a mistake is definitely a noble and admirable trait. Some medical practitioners even promote doing so in case of misdiagnosis or doctor error. However, an apology may not be sufficient when a doctor error has led to a patient’s worsened condition. An apology can certainly show that there was no intent of malice or wrongdoing on the part of a medical practitioner, but it cannot cover for the damages.

In such an instance, a New Haven patient may choose to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. A “sorry” can be a good start to heal the emotional scars, but the physical damage as well as the financial distress it has bought should also be addressed.

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

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