Posted by Bill Sandweg on 15 May 2023.
Medicine is an honorable profession. Most of the people who are doctors are good people, who do good work, and who are honest and have high moral standards. That is why it is so disappointing that, when medical malpractice happens, honesty and high moral standards seem to go out the window.
I have been representing people injured by medical malpractice for over 40 years now. It has been my almost universal experience that when a patient is hurt by medical malpractice, the doctor says two things. (1) I did nothing wrong; and (2) Nothing I did or didn’t do caused the problem you are complaining about. Sometimes the evidence of malpractice is overwhelming and yet they still say the same thing. Where are the medical ethics that require honesty between the physician and her patient? Where are the moral standards that the doctor follows everywhere else in life? It is almost as though doctors give themselves a free pass in malpractice cases to be less than candid with their patients.
Human nature being what it is, I guess we should not be surprised that many doctors leave their ethics and morals at the door when a malpractice claim arises. I get it. There are lots of bad consequences that flow from being found guilty of medical malpractice. The state medical board will open an investigation into the circumstances of the malpractice. While the doctor is unlikely to lose her or his license, the board may take action and that action will be available for the public to see. The malpractice gets reported to the National Practitioners’ Data Bank. Every time a doctor applies for privileges at a hospital or for a license in a new state or for renewal of her malpractice insurance policy, an inquiry is made to the data bank. A data bank report can result in the refusal of a hospital to grant privileges to the doctor to practice at that hospital. It can result in the new state either refusing to give the doctor a license or placing some restrictions on the doctor’s right to practice. It can result in higher premiums on the doctor’s malpractice insurance policy. The temptation to stonewall the patient or even misrepresent the facts is great and the risks of honesty are many.
At the same time, the medical profession recognizes that honest reporting of errors is not only required by medical ethics, it is good for the profession. No one learns from mistakes that are swept under the rug. Mistakes are supposed to be reported without fear of adverse consequences so that they can be investigated and steps taken to prevent them from happening again. Keeping silent and pretending that everything is just peachy, does not make the practice of medicine better nor does it make the public any safer.
I want to be clear that not all doctors give in to the temptation to be less than honest about what happened and that they made a mistake. Some doctors admit their mistakes and testify honestly. They regret their error and want to see their patient compensated for any harm that was done. Sadly, these upright, honest doctors are the exception and not the rule.