Lately I’ve been doing some reading about the myriad of things in our healthcare system that we could be doing much better and as always tort reform comes out close to the top.
Looking at it, the problem doesn’t only lie in our rising medical costs due to malpractice insurance and doctors practicing defensive medicine (ordering probably unnecessary tests and treatment out of fear that they might get sued). It also erodes the trust present in the doctor-patient relationship and the integrity of the doctors forced to practice in a litigious atmosphere.
Doctors aren’t allowed to say “I’m sorry”. It’s a malpractice thing, kind of like the warning on the back of your car insurance card that says, in event of an accident don’t apologize. Apologies imply guilt, you see, and guilt means you lose in court.
The strange thing is that, they found (in a study I can’t lay my hands on right now), that if the doctor had only apologized, most of these lawsuits wouldn’t have happened. These lawsuits are brought to court by people in pain. People that have just lost a loved one, or a leg. People who believe that the doctor should be made to pay for what they’ve done since they so obviously have no remorse.
Can you imagine? I’m sure it’s happened to most physicians at one point or another, whether as a near miss or a true tragedy. One day you screw up. You’re too tired and you make a mistake during surgery, you misdiagnose a condition because the alternative just didn’t occur to you, someone dies or is horribly disfigured. And you can’t say, “I’m so sorry. I was tired. I didn’t think. I was human. There’s no way I could ever make up for your loss.”
What does that do to them as people? Doesn’t it make them feel like a monsters to cause a tragedy by making a mistake and then have to consider something so ridiculously pragmatic as whether or not the family will sue? How hard is it to go against their first instinct to try and ease these people’s pain and lock it down so that they can pray they don’t get sued. It’s a challenge with a million dollar price tag if they fail.
What does it do to the doctor-patient relationship when there’s a bad outcome and you know that even if your doctor was in the wrong they wouldn’t tell you? It sure makes it easier to assume that there was a mistake and a cover up or even true malicious intent, doesn’t it?
How did we get here? To place where people in pain use the legal system to punish people in pain? Who can fix this, really? What can we do? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Maybe someday I will. But for now I think we need to start by asking the questions.