Patients who become victims of medical malpractice rarely receive an acknowledgement of the mistake, or an apology , according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Apparently, only 9% of the patients who participated in the study said that the medical provider/facility voluntarily disclosed the mistake. When harm was disclosed, it was often because the provider was forced to do so. And only 11% of patients reported ever receiving an apology.

Evading responsibility and running from accountability are not doing the medical profession much good.  Instead, as studies like this one make the headlines again and again, consumer trust in doctors and hospitals is steadily eroding. Some of the more cynical care givers defend the burying of their errors by claiming that they will be sued if they are as forthcoming as they might like to be with their patients.  Except that self-serving approach is also self deluding. Believe it or not, many, if not most victims of medical malpractice don’t need to be told that they have been victimized. They figure it out, either on their own, of after talking with friends and family members–some of whom may themselves work in the field of healthcare. And then they speak to a medical malpractice lawyer.

That this all-too-common scenario is so common is a shame.  Timely notification to patients who have suffered medical error could save them from the ravages of unrealized error, infection or contamination, and stop, or at least lessen the resulting harm.  Patients would likely not feel so angry, and inclined to sue, when they learn that their doctor did all he or she could, as soon as he or she could, to fix the mistake.  Having listened to hundreds of patients who have been injured while receiving medical care, the injury itself is only part of the calculus when it comes to bringing a lawsuit.  How they were treated afterward, and whether or not the mistake was acknowledged, are not only hugely significant–they can, and have made the difference between whether a claim is pursued, or not.

The moral here? Sometimes it’s actually a good idea to follow your altruistic impulses.

We’re here to listen.

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