Avoiding medical error discussion can cause problems

It's no surprise that medical errors upset physicians. But the way they typically handle it--by descending into fear and guilt, and often, avoidance of the patient--tends to make things worse, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. While it's natural to feel uncomfortable, doctors who get past that to admit to medical mistakes and explain how they'll prevent future errors are less likely to be sued, and often maintain their relationship with the patient, said Dr. Tom DelBanco, one of the article's authors.

However, the authors admit that the legal picture regarding such communications is still cloudy. While about 30 states have enacted "I'm sorry" laws shielding doctors' expressions of sympathy from being used in med mal suits, these laws still don't protect doctors against suits based on admissions of error. Add that to the fact that physicians don't feel they know how to communicate on this subject, and the profession still faces a serious dilemma here, the authors said.

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