Sorry Works!

Physician Lied During Med-Mal Trial


Physician Lied During Med-Mal Trial

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 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.

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