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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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