Medical errors happen far more often than people think they do. Almost every practitioner at any level of experience has made a medical error at least once in his or her career. Most of the time these mistakes go unnoticed and aren't harmful to patients. But in the event a patient is injured, medical professionals have been counseled by lawyers, hospitals, and insurers on how to respond to the news. For years, the “deny and defend” approach to dealing with malpractice has been perpetuated by doctors, in hopes that any admission of regret or concern would invite victims to pursue litigation. However, with the rising rates of claims filed by patients and large malpractice costs paid by providers, some medical centers are choosing to adopt an alternative approach. Rather than refusing to acknowledge the issue and severing relationships with patients, some doctors are choosing to say “I'm sorry.”
This was the case for a respected and revered Chicago doctor who had made the most grievous mistake he had ever made in the last 40 years of operating on patients. Dr. Tapas Das Gupta, 76, was scheduled to remove a sliver of potentially cancerous tissue in the ninth rib of a female patient. However, during the operation, he mistakenly ended up removing tissue from the eighth rib instead. When Dr. Das Gupta was provided with an X-ray that displayed concrete evidence of the mishap, he immediately apologized.
“After all these years, I cannot give you any excuse whatsoever,” he said to the woman and her spouse. “It is just one of those things that occurred. I have to some extent harmed you.”
After learning of the malpractice, the patient was given orders to immediately undergo another operation to retrieve the potentially cancerous tissue. Fortunately, the sliver of tissue that was supposed to be removed in the first operation was not cancerous. Altogether, the woman had accrued a total of $40,000, solely comprised of medical expenses and legal fees.
Thankful for Dr. Das Gupta's apology, the patient decided not to sue the practitioner. After a brief negotiation, the couple decided to accept $74,000 from the hospital - a relatively small amount of money for an error of this magnitude. The injured patient may ultimately have received much more had they choose to be represented by counsel and proceeded with litigation.
Dr. Das Gupta's patient claimed that a candid and sincere apology alleviated the anger they felt as a result of the mishap. According to the University of Illinois, Dr. Das Gupta's facility, they've seen a significant drop in malpractice filings since the practice of acknowledging preventable injuries and apologizing. Hospital representatives say an emphasis has been placed on the preservation of the doctor-patient relationship. Instead of refusing to acknowledge a medical error, doctors are to apologize and prioritize the patient's health which seems to be a good thing.
Unfortunately, other physicians and medical facilities have refused to follow the example of the University of Illinois' approach. Most doctors still aren't convinced that being genuine in interactions with patients is the way to go. Patient safety authority David Studdert says the healthcare industry's focus on disclosure is counterproductive, and that only open and honest conversation between doctors and patients will create progress.
“If we can't prevent these things, then at least we have to be forthright with people when they occur,” Studdert said.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of the negligence of a medical professional or organization, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact the Brod Law Firm today for a free consultation.