A New Mexico patient who is harmed by a medical error might not hear an apology after the fact. Although many states have legislation in place to allow a professional to apologize without the act being considered as evidence in a malpractice case, New Mexico lacks such protections for medical professionals. Unfortunately, an apology could go a long way in helping an injured patient family to cope with the situation. Further, acknowledging errors may allow the source of trouble to be more carefully investigated so that future occurrences can be avoided.
One type of operating room error can result from IT outages. In the case of one lawsuit, the incorrect rib was removed from a woman. The surgeon involved in the situation did not apologize but rather lied about the error. The woman has since discovered that the picture archiving and communication system was experiencing an outage at the time, which could have contributed to the mistake. Developing protocols for alerting medical institutions to such outages may be helpful in ensuring that surgeries don’t proceed if failures in such systems could compromise the outcomes.
A separate case involving a toddler’s death because of an alarm being turned off was handled with an apology. In that case, there was no legal action taken by the parents. The mother has since become a catalyst for change, working as a consultant for the hospital to resolve medical error situations. Although an apology can be helpful, some institutions are affected by gag clauses, which prohibit any action that might suggest responsibility for an adverse outcome.
Some medical errors could have minor implications, especially those that only result in minor symptoms or inconveniences. However, some errors can result in permanent impairments. Medical malpractice action might be warranted if an individual’s quality of life would be significantly impacted.
Source: NCSL, “Medical Professional Apologies Statutes“, Heather Morton, Jan. 21, 2014