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Honesty is the best policy

Transparency means something is easy to understand, honest and open. Transparency means no secrets. While we hear this term in the context of things the government doesn’t tell its citizens, increased transparency in medicine will likely have many benefits, one of which is fewer malpractice lawsuits.

Over the years we have heard from many of our clients that they never would have sought legal help if the doctor had just been upfront with them and explained what happened. Our anecdotal experiences are consistent with studies performed by the medical community.

A recent article in Journal of Patient Safety took a comprehensive look the lack of transparency in medicine and some of the consequences caused by that lack. Doctors, like the rest of us, often learn more from their failures than from their successes. If a doctor makes an error, he can only learn from it if the error is brought to his attention. Yet, there are many barriers that prevent doctors from obtaining that crucial information.

The lack of transparency starts in medical school. All of us want to believe that ethical, moral people will “do the right thing”. Yet, only a very small portion of first year medical students would consider reporting a senior colleague’s mistake. Ethics is simply not part of medical training. The entire tenor of medical education discourages admitting mistakes and reporting the mistakes of others.

Not only do doctors hide mistakes from other doctors, they hide them from their patients. As indicated above, this only increases the likelihood that a patient who sues a doctor for malpractice. In this instance the old bromide “honesty is the best policy” has proven its worth.” Open and transparent discussions between patient and physician will improve relationships between them and, once again, lead to fewer malpractice cases.

Finally, fear of malpractice suits may actually increase the number of malpractice cases filed. To the extent a physician’s apology to an injured patient satisfies the patient’s desire for an explanation of how the injury occurred, that patient is less likely to file suit. While many states have adopted statutes that encourage physicians to apology when appropriate, without fear that the apology can be used in court as admission of liability, that rule is far from universal.

We submit that increased transparency will improve doctor-patient relationship which, ultimately, will lead to fewer malpractice lawsuits being filed.