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Surgical mistakes: Does apologizing help?

Surgical errors are frightening. Many patients never consider the possibility that the hospital, surgeon or surgical staff will injure them through negligence. Nevertheless, mistakes do occur and anyone who goes to a doctor or hospital can become a victim.

Imagine this scenario. You go to the hospital for a routine hernia operation. The next thing you know, you're waking up after two weeks in a coma - and you can barely remember who you are. You spend the next several years in therapy trying to get your brain and your body back. You pile up millions of dollars in medical expenses while coming to the realization that you'll never be able to work again.

This is the profile of a medical malpractice victim. Getting stonewalled by a surgeon who won't admit to his or her errors only makes things worse. But what if your surgeon simply said, "I'm sorry?"

Standard "operating" procedure: Never apologize

Most victims of medical malpractice have a million questions going through their heads, but the most pressing of them all will be, "What happened?" and "How am I going to pay for this?"

Injured patients will need to answer these questions, not only for their psychological well-being and to achieve a sense of closure, but also to build evidence to support their claims for compensation from the insurance companies, or, if necessary, in a lawsuit.

However, until you file an actual lawsuit, the only answer your hospital and surgeon are likely to give is that the surgery didn't go well, or, there were unforeseen complications. Standard operating procedure for surgeons is never to offer an apology, and never to admit to a mistake.

Things could be changing: Surgeons are saying "I'm sorry"

The University of Illinois at Chicago, in addition to select medical facilities around the country, is experimenting with a new approach. Rather than stonewalling malpractice victims, the University performs a prompt investigation after suspected medical errors, then gives the results to the victims. In addition to compensation for injuries, the hospital also offers an apology.

The University of Illinois' approach contradicts the "deny and defend" strategy. One might think this would result in more lawsuits, but that's not the case. Believe it or not, the policy has decreased malpractice suits at participating hospitals by 50 percent.

Seek just compensation for your injuries

Regardless what happened in your medical malpractice case, you and your family deserve just compensation. By consulting with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, you can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your potential lawsuit, and pursue the financial restitution you deserve.

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