When Virginia Doctors Make Mistakes: Say You Are Sorry

A friend of mine sent me a wonderful article recently published in the Washington Post written by a physician who advocates that health care providers should admit mistakes when they are made.

Yes, you read that correctly: the editorial says that doctors should fess up and admit their mistakes if they hurt a patient.

Tell the family. Move on. Ask for forgiveness and put your cards on the table.

The article cites a number of reasons why Virginia doctors should apologize to patients when they make a mistake.

For example:

  • Patients are less likely to sue when they receive an apology
  • Patients understand mistakes happen and just want explanations
  • Patients appreciate honest doctors

I know there is nothing scientific about the following statement, but I believe it to be true:

If doctors admitted mistakes when they happen and apologized to patients and their families, I would likely be out of a job.

Meaning: Virginia patients would likely be less motivated to file cases if only doctors would own up to their mistakes when they injure a patient. I hear families say all the time – “we just wanted an apology” – but instead, we got nothing. No explanation. No answers. Nothing. And so we had to hire a lawyer to find out what really happened and to make sure the doctor, nurse, hospital knows what they did wrong.

At the end of the day, most of us just want to know we matter – we are heard, and we matter. When a professional recognizes that humanity and need with an admission, an apology, we are all better off. Something to think about.

Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.