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When they make mistakes, doctors need to learn how to apologize

Doctors are held in high esteem. They undergo years of schooling and training, and they take care of us when we are sick or injured. The best carry an aura of omniscience combined with compassion. But doctors are human, are not infallible and sometimes cause harm to patients. This is medical malpractice.

What to do? A discussion has been percolating within the medical community on how to deal with these inevitable medical errors. A growing movement suggests that instead of retreating behind a wall of legal silence, doctors should come forward, admit their error to the patient, apologize and explain why the mistake occurred and how they will work to prevent future incidents of medical malpractice.

There is a great deal of inertia in the medical industry accepting responsibility for medical errors and malpractice. Much of the danger in the culture of silence is that it can mask the presence of systemic problems.

Many patients and their families who have suffered the ill effects of medical malpractice are very interested in preventing future occurrences of incidents like those they experienced. To some degree, they want to feel that their suffering was not in vain, and that the doctor and hospital will make changes.

When the medical profession appears to be covering up their errors, it exacerbates the patient's feelings that they do not care and are more concerned about money than patient's health.

It also can prevent the hospital and doctors from leaning from those errors and correcting systemic problems that will lead to future incidents of medical malpractice.

Washington Post, "Medical errors are hard for doctors to admit, but it’s wise to apologize to patients," Manoj Jain, May 27, 2013

Source: Washington Post, "Medical errors are hard for doctors to admit, but it’s wise to apologize to patients," Manoj Jain, May 27, 2013

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