The Importance of Trust after Medical Mistakes

Our team of medical malpractice lawyers has been working with patients injured by negligence for 30 years. We understand the importance of establishing trust with your healthcare team and the devastating consequences of breaking that trust. In this blog, we explore what types of cases merit legal action and how the legal process affects patients and doctors alike.

One recent study by researchers at the University of Florida surveyed about 700 patients and families who had been injured by medical errors throughout the country. This survey was intended to record patient and family perspectives. Unsurprisingly, responders felt a lack of accountability, poor communication, and felt disrespected from their healthcare providers.

Responders noted their medical errors led to severe financial losses, permanent disability, forced additional treatment, and death, among other outcomes. The patients and families who felt their providers were untrustworthy or were attempting to hide the errors were much more likely to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Among those who chose to take legal action, about 27% reached the settlement stage and about 17% ultimately received compensation. Six families reported receiving settlements totaling more than $500,000.

Some doctors are sued far more frequently than others in their field. This is not random. Many studies like the one at the University of Florida confirm that patients who felt their doctors did not communicate openly with them or were trying to mislead them were far more likely to file malpractice suits. Patients in the care of doctors with a history of malpractice claims are more likely to report that they felt rushed, did not have their treatments explained to them, or were outright ignored. Poor communication is by far the most common complaint among doctors with the highest number of legal claims.

One of the Florida researchers told Modern Healthcare that patients seek honesty and apologies from medical staff after an error, yet the system is not designed to support this type of communication. There is no doubt that providers feel guilt after making a medical mistake, however the fear of retaliation from employers and fear of potential litigation often stop clinical staff from admitting to and apologizing for a mistake.

Patients need an outlet to tell their story and honest answers about what happened, why it happened, and what can be done to help them. More often than not, patients never receive any type of meaningful feedback, causing ever more loss of trust in the healthcare system and providers.

Apology Laws

Some states, such as Oklahoma, have established new laws to help create a better culture in healthcare. In order to make physicians feel more comfortable speaking with patients honestly, Oklahoma recently adopted an “apology law.” This new legislation allows medical staff to apologize to patients and their families without fear that the apology would be used against them in court. Under the law, apologies are inadmissible as evidence of liability or as an admission against interest.

Other experts have suggested other ways to create venues where clinicians can discuss errors and how to prevent future incidents without fear of retribution. In 2012, the Chicago-based chain of hospitals Presence Health started holding meetings to discuss systemic problems that could result in patient safety incidents. During the meetings, staffers would try to come up with solutions and the changes were quickly implemented.

Other hospitals are reluctant or outright resistant to making these types of changes. Establishing new programs like at Presence Health entails difficult, constant work that would challenge the status quo of an entire hospital.

The medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm know all too well that improved communication would drastically change how patients understand their medical care. Unfortunately, sometimes mistakes do occur that leave patients and their families financially or physically devastated, making a legal claim the most effective and efficient way to gain justice. We provide free legal consultations to concerned patients nationwide.

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