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Despite “Apology Laws,” Physicians May Not Communicate Medical Errors

Public release date: 28-Nov-2008

One half of the adverse medical events occurring each year in the United Sates are due to preventable medical errors. These adverse events cause up to 98,000 deaths each year. In theory, “apology laws” make it easier for physicians to disclose errors by diminishing their fear that a malpractice suit will follow. In addition, evidence suggests that full disclosure increases patient satisfaction, trust, and the likelihood of a positive emotional experience. A satisfied patient would be less likely to disrupt the physician-patient relationship. Despite the well-recognized benefits of disclosure and apology, most physicians do not communicate their errors to patients. Those opposed to apology laws say that widespread disclosure and apology may “flag” errors, and prompt more claims than are dissuaded by the apologies. The authors argue that regardless of potential drawbacks, apology laws may improve doctor-patient relationships by providing doctors with new opportunities to discuss difficult topics with patients. The authors encourage physicians to talk with their state medical associations and legal counsel about how to best comply with their own states’ apology laws.

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