Clinicians Often Fail to Empathize After Adverse Event

Clinicians Often Fail to Empathize After Adverse Event
Clinicians Often Fail to Empathize After Adverse Event

(HealthDay News) — The health care industry is recognizing the benefits of prompt and transparent physician communication with patients and families about bad outcomes, according to an article published June 10 in Medical Economics.

The author of the article, Debra Beaulieu-Volk, notes that, previously, saying little was promoted as a means to protect against medical malpractice. But now, the legal landscape is shifting, with at least 36 states now having apology laws that prohibit certain statements, expressions, or other evidence related to disclosure from being admissible in a lawsuit. Expressions of empathy and sympathy are not admissible in court based on most state laws, while a few states protect admissions of fault.

According to Beaulieu-Volk, Doug Wojcieszak, founder of Sorry Works!, says that most clinicians are not trained to express empathy without admitting fault. Stress, shock, and embarrassment of a potential mistake can lead physicians to react inappropriately, including not empathizing enough or saying things to the family that extends beyond the facts known at the time.

"After a physician's first conversation with a patient or family member -- one that should express empathy and a promise to follow up as soon as more facts are known -- the next step should be a phone call to the doctor's professional liability carrier," said Don Karotkin, a malpractice attorney with Karotkin & Associates in Houston, according the Medical Economics article.

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