November 12, 2004

Say you're sorry, Doc

Jesse Taylor highlights the new thinking on malpractice reform—perhaps simply saying you're sorry works:
Some malpractice-reform advocates say an apology can help doctors avoid getting sued, especially when combined with an upfront settlement offer.

The idea defies a long tradition in which doctors cultivated a Godlike image of infallibility and rarely owned up to their mistakes.

The softer approach, now appearing in some medical school courses and hospital policies, is drawing interest as national attention has turned to reducing both medical errors and the high cost of malpractice insurance, which has been blamed for driving doctors out of business.
To add some statistical background: Malcolm Gladwell's new book, Blink—which isn't out yet, but should be on everyone's "to read" list when it does—notes that the single best predictor of whether or not a doctor gets sued is his/her relationship with his/her patients. Dislikeable doctors almost always get sued when something goes wrong, and likeable doctors don't. Patients subject to malpractice will look at the cuddly doctor and say, "Oh, well, he screwed up, but he is so nice and he's our doctor." So there you go.

On the other hand, a real malpractice-reform policy would single out malpractice as the problem that needs fixing, rather than lawsuits over malpractice. But apparently that's not in the cards.
-- Brad Plumer 3:57 PM || ||