When most people are wronged, what they would like most is an apology and some form of restitution that will make things right. Two years ago, Massachusetts enacted a law that was meant to encourage hospitals to apologize to patients and attempt to come to a resolution when a procedure has gone awry. The thought is that the admission of mistakes will allow doctors to improve themselves and give patients the much needed closure that they desire. Coming to a resolution without first consulting an attorney can put the patient at a huge disadvantage on the other hand, and it is important not to be fooled into accepting a legally binding agreement as part of an apology.
Deny and Defend Policy Implemented to Address Medical Malpractice Cases
Prior to the passage of Massachusetts’s law it was typical of hospitals to deny any claims of malpractice regardless of whether an error was obvious and the doctor admitted responsibility internally. This practice is primarily to defend institutions against lawsuits but has resulted in a warranted lack of trust between patients and providers. It becomes extremely difficult to come to any form of resolution with an organization that acts untrustworthy and fails to accept responsibility for its failures.
Patients seeking simple answers or closure were required to file lawsuits because of hospitals’ unwillingness to disclose any information that may have painted them in a negative light or opened them up to legal recourse. Offering an apology and some form of resolution may be easier and faster than following the legal process— which can take years.
Pitfalls for Patients
The first question on every patient’s mind when accepting an apology and resolution should be whether the resolution comes with conditions. Hospitals in Massachusetts have required patients to give up their right to file lawsuits as a condition of resolutions but have also been willing to allow patients to have their attorneys present during communication. It is extremely important that you involve a qualified personal injury lawyer in any proceedings between you and your healthcare provider regardless of how amiable and sincere the provider appears. This is primarily to ensure that you do not enter into an agreement that would not be in your best interest.
It is the right of every patient to expect compensation for injuries caused by medical errors and admission of mistakes would help healthcare professionals learn and move on from them while reestablishing a good standing with patients. It is encouraging and refreshing to see hospitals admit that their staff have made mistakes and should other states model similar laws after Massachusetts’s apology law, it may become easier for patients and hospitals to settle disputes and agree to compensation without the need to bring cases to court.