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Why doctors should start taking responsibility for mistakes

We are taught from a young age to own up to our mistakes, to be accountable for our actions. But for some reason, this need to take responsibility for mistakes does not always translate into action, especially when there is a fear that those mistakes will cost us a lot of money.

Even though doctors deal in life and death situations, they are still human and make mistakes. This is why there are medical malpractice claims. Doctors, however, may not admit the mistakes they make for fear of being held liable through a medical malpractice claim. Some doctors follow the mantra of "deny and defend" when a mistake is alleged.

A recent suggestion from the University of Michigan hopes to change this traditional way of thinking.

Strangely enough, Michigan physicians found that increased honesty actually decreased the number of medical malpractice claims. When doctors are transparent, they gain some respect from patients, patients heal more completely and at a quicker rate, and are generally more satisfied with the care. As a result, patients may not bring medical malpractice claims or may pursue other forms of holding the doctors accountable.

Patients understand that doctors are not infallible, but disclosing weaknesses and acknowledging mistakes may actually help health care professionals become better doctors. Better doctors, in turn, create better care in the future.

This does not mean that doctors should be able to avoid lawsuits where their negligence results in patient injury. Doctors and hospitals need to be held responsible through medical malpractice actions, especially when they deny their actions and are not on a path to learn from them. Furthermore, victims of medical malpractice are entitled to compensation for the injuries - including physical, financial and emotional injuries - caused by doctor negligence.

Source: CBS Moneywatch, "Make the most of your mistakes," Margaret Heffernan, Aug. 22, 2012

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