Would you trust a dentist to diagnose your sleep disorder? If you said “no,” the Texas Medical Association is on your side, and is taking its concerns to court. Why, you ask? Because diagnosing and treating sleep disorders is outside the realm and qualifications of dentists–at least it is if you are a physician and member of the Texas Medical Association.
But not everyone sees the issue in such black and white terms. The fact is that dentists do treat at least some sleep disorders, particularly when the treatment calls for the patient’s use of an appliance worn inside the mouth. And the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine is made of dentists devoted to the specialty. When I was treated by NYC-based dentist Michael Gelb, DDS, for TMJ, I learned that not only does he specialize in treating sleep apnea--he revolutionized its treatment with some of his own inventions.
So why would a medical association, the members of which likely swore an oath to support tort “reform” and never resort to something as sordid as the courtroom, sue to prevent dentists devoted to certain sleep disorders from treating them? I mean, this is Texas, bastion of large-scale tort-reform legislation by that celebrated visionary, Gov. Rick Perry. Might it be that these Texas doctors are concerned about the thickness of their wallets, and simply don’t want to let any business slip away? I’m just asking, because of course, I have no opinion. Really.
Words can mean a lot when patients are injured or killed by medical malpractice. First came the phrase, “I’m sorry,” which I discussed just over one year ago in this post. Even the medical establishment has recognized the true value of an apology, as they have come to acknowledge that medical malpractice lawsuits are not fueled by greed, but by anger at the failure to even offer these words of comfort after lives have been derailed.
So let’s move on to the next logical phrase. What would happen if doctors began acknowledging fault after making mistakes, particularly mistakes that caused serious injury or death? Ohio physicians are pushing for a law that would allow them to own up to errors, but would prevent such admissions from being used in court. Proponents of such legislation say that it could defuse the anger and resentment of victims of malpractice, since often, what they value most is a full explanation of what happened to them. Therefore, acknowledging that a mistake was made could lessen lawsuit filings. On the other hand, opponents feel such a law would be unethical, as the admission cannot be used in court, and would present a distorted view of the evidence at trial.
At first glance, the proposed law seems a bit too favorable for doctors and hospitals. If such acknowledgments result in fewer medical malpractice lawsuits, that is not necessarily a bad thing–if, and only if,victims are compensated in alternative ways, such as quick settlements that start them on the road to recovery. Such admissions might also facilitate actual learning from mistakes, as more, and more open discussion would lead to less stigmatism of those who make them, making the sharing of lessons learned easier to do.
What do you think?
Patients who become victims of medical malpractice rarely receive an acknowledgement of the mistake, or an apology, according to a new study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Apparently, only 9% of the patients who participated in the study said that the medical provider/facility voluntarily disclosed the mistake. When harm was disclosed, it was often because the provider was forced to do so. And only 11% of patients reported ever receiving an apology.
Evading responsibility and running from accountability are not doing the medical profession much good. Instead, as studies like this one make the headlines again and again, consumer trust in doctors and hospitals is steadily eroding. Some of the more cynical care givers defend the burying of their errors by claiming that they will be sued if they are as forthcoming as they might like to be with their patients. Except that self-serving approach is also self deluding. Believe it or not, many, if not most victims of medical malpractice don’t need to be told that they have been victimized. They figure it out, either on their own, of after talking with friends and family members–some of whom may themselves work in the field of healthcare. And then they speak to a medical malpractice lawyer.
That this all-too-common scenario is so common is a shame. Timely notification to patients who have suffered medical error could save them from the ravages of unrealized error, infection or contamination, and stop, or at least lessen the resulting harm. Patients would likely not feel so angry, and inclined to sue, when they learn that their doctor did all he or she could, as soon as he or she could, to fix the mistake. Having listened to hundreds of patients who have been injured while receiving medical care, the injury itself is only part of the calculus when it comes to bringing a lawsuit. How they were treated afterward, and whether or not the mistake was acknowledged, are not only hugely significant–they can, and have made the difference between whether a claim is pursued, or not.
The moral here? Sometimes it’s actually a good idea to follow your altruistic impulses.