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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Additional Thoughts -- Physician Lied During Med-Mal Trial

sweating-to-tell-the-truthShortly after this column was released last Saturday (original column with links below), a plaintiff's attorney friend of mine took me to task (and rightly so).  He said my column downplayed the fact that the physician in this article did more than "lie" or commit an immoral act...the physician intentionally committed the felony crime of perjury and further injured the plaintiff and his family.  My plaintiff's attorney friend blasted the excuse given by the offending physician that he (the doctor) felt obligated to lie because of his employment contract.  My friend stated that no employment contract can require any employee (physician or otherwise) to break the law, and no court in the land would honor such a "contractual obligation."  Share this with your physician friends....this is an important topic, just the same as the fear of losing medical malpractice coverage due to disclosure.   Countless times we've heard the excuse from physicians that the medical malpractice insurer said "no to disclosure" or the insurer will cancel my coverage if I tell the truth.  We dispelled those myths awhile back at here and here.   

Which brings me to the point for writing this follow up column: Healthcare professionals can do some crazy and even illegal things post-event because they have not been trained!  For too long, physicians, nurses, and other clinicians have operated in a literal information vacuum post-event, and they are left to figure it out on their own with rumors, half-truths, and what they have heard from their colleagues (who don't know any better themselves!).   Too often, doctors and nurses run away and hide, say the wrong things or the right things in the wrong manner, speculate or joust, promise the moon, act cold and callous, or....perjure themselves!   We need to stop this, and the good news is training your staff on disclosure helps your bottom line.

A great place to start training your front-line staff is the with the Little Book of Empathy.  Priced from $4 to $9 per copy (depending on your volume), the Little Book of Empathy teaches the disclosure basics to any clinician in 30 minutes or less.  To order copies, click on this link. 

Sorry Works! also makes for a great Grand Rounds presentation for your physicians, nurses, and front-line staff. To learn more about CME-accredited Grand Rounds presentations from Sorry Works, call 618-559-8168 or e-mail doug@sorryworks.net.

Sincerely,

- Doug

Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works!, 618-559-8168

Physician Lied During Med-Mal Trial (originally published September 22, 2016)

A retired surgeon recently confessed in a newspaper column that he lied under oath to protect a colleague during a medical malpractice trial nearly two decades ago. Dr. Lars Aanning, age 77, published his column last month and then provided an interview for ProPublica.

Dr. Aanning said he felt pressure to protect his colleague, even though a mistake had been made during the surgery that led to the patient being crippled. He said this pressure for doctors to protect one another comes from professional societies like the American Medical Association down to hospitals and individual practices. It's the doctors against the lawyers, stated Dr. Aanning, and, at the time he didn't feel like he was lying but more so just supporting a colleague --- even though at the time he had doubts concerning the surgical abilities of his colleague.

The plaintiff lost the case, and Dr. Aanning says his lie under oath haunts him. Today, he is a patient safety advocate and works with plaintiff's attorneys on medical malpractice cases, but Dr. Aanning clearly states there is no level playing field for injured patients in a courtroom. Dr. Aanning wishes for a better way than the legal system to resolve medical errors.

There is a better way...it's called disclosure and apology. We're making great progress, but, let's not fool ourselves. Dr. Aanning's column is a stark reminder of the deeply embedded culture we are trying to change. When Sorry Works! started 11+ years ago, disclosure was literally a four letter word. We've changed that perception, but there are still many claims and legal professionals who are stuck in the old mind set, and we still have not provided adequate disclosure training for front-line clinicians in acute AND long-term care settings. So, when a crisis hits, it's easy for doctors and nurses to fall back into cover up mode and for the folks in claims and legal to reinforce this bad behavior.

We need to continue developing and refining disclosure and apology programs. A big part of any disclosure program is sending a different message to our doctors and nurses: "We support you post-event, we want you to tell the truth, and we will get everyone -- patient, family, and clinical staff -- through the event. There is no problem too big for us to handle. Just tell the truth!" Internal and external PR is a big part of any successful disclosure program. We talk about this extensively in the Sorry Works! Tool Kit.

Disclosure starts at the bed side with clinicians empathetically communicating with patients and families after something goes wrong. This doesn't happen by accident...clinical staff need to be trained how to communicate post-event. This is why we have sold thousands of copies of the Little Book of Empathy. The Little Book of Empathy, priced from $9 to $4 per copy, provides samples scripts for post-event conversations, cases, and check boxes for clinicians, and can be read in 30 minutes or less.

Here is the link to Dr. Aaron's column and also a link to his ProPublica Interview.

If you need any assistance from Sorry Works!, call 618-559-8168 or e-mail doug@sorryworks.net.

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