A misplaced needle during the administration of anesthesia turned Linda Kenney's routine ankle surgery into a fight for her life. Her heart stopped and doctors had to split her chest open to restart it. She and her family immediately pursued an aggressive law suit to "flatten" the anesthesiologist at fault.
That lawsuit never made it to court, however, due to the sincere apology of the doctor. He wrote her a letter and then met with her personally to confess his fault and to tell her how "deeply saddened" he was that she had suffered at his hand. "I found out he was a real person," Ms. Kenney says. "He made an effort to seek me out and say he was sorry I suffered." Ms. Kenney dropped the suit.
"Insurers and hospital lawyers have long discouraged doctors from apologizing to harmed patients for fear that such apologies might fuel lawsuits," reported THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (May '04):
The rule has always been "not to talk about the events to anybody," says Dr. Van Pelt. "Even a passing comment can be subpoenaed."
But with malpractice premiums soaring and a national patients' rights movement pushing for full disclosure of medical errors, the industry is rethinking the traditional approach known as "defend and deny." Stories such as Ms. Kenney's are persuading a growing number of hospitals, doctors and insurers that apologies may end up saving some of the huge sums paid out to settle disputes over medical care.
Since 2001, prominent institutions from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore have made it a policy to urge their doctors to own up to mistakes and apologize. Consultants are increasingly in demand for seminars on how best to deliver lawsuit-deflecting apologies. Two states, Colorado and Oregon, have passed laws specifically saying an apology can't be used against a doctor in court.
At some medical schools, including Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., courses in communicating errors and apologizing are now mandatory for medical students and residents. …
Nothing is more effective in reducing liability than "an authentically offered apology," says Colorado surgeon Michael Woods, who teaches seminars for doctors and malpractice insurers on the importance of apologizing.
Some hospitals report that their expenses related to lawsuits and claims have declined as much as 30% since instituting a "policy of apology."
There is another court of law that doesn't use our apologies against us. It's the court of Heaven where those who have sincerely confessed their guilt are then declared innocent. If those who face litigation can't afford not to own up to their mistakes and make sincere apology, so much more those who face the throne of God.
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9).
"Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).