Physicians typically recall, with stunning clarity, the moment a patient’s treatment went wrong. Following an adverse event, physicians often are tormented by competing desires to apologize and instincts to forge ahead without acknowledgement. A patient’s decision to file a malpractice action may be triggered by the physician’s response to a problem − or lack thereof.
The Washington Post highlighted contrasting tales of medical errors in which two patients suffered devastating consequences during surgery. Frustrated by a “white wall of silence” preventing her health care providers from articulating more than “’things didn’t go well,’” the first patient desperately committed to finding truth at all costs. In stark contrast, following his surgeon’s immediate explanation and apology for an error that rendered the second patient quadriplegic, the patient engaged in productive discussions with risk managers. The patient’s needs were met and his attorneys negotiated a confidential settlement without litigation.