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My Doctor Admitted to a Mistake. Now What?

Admitting to a mistake is rare in the medical community. Many doctors are worried that admitting to a mistake will mean they get sued for medical malpractice. However, in many cases, handling a medical injury by admitting to a mistake may be a way to avoid a lawsuit. When a doctor discloses any errors, they can help the patient get the care they need and avoid the problems that happen when the doctor denies anything went wrong. 

Unfortunately, admitting to a mistake is not common after a medical error. Instead, patients have to fight with the hospital, doctors, and insurance companies to get compensated for their losses. Having a medical malpractice attorney on your side can go a long way to helping you through the difficult process so you can get the care you need. For advice in your medical injury case, contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

What Happens After a Medical Mistake?

Mistakes in medicine may happen more often than you would think. According to a study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. The study found almost 250,000 deaths a year were caused by medical mistakes. 

However, even that number may not represent the full number of deaths caused by medical errors. A study in the Journal of Patient Safety found the number of deaths due to preventable mistakes was about 400,000 people per year. And these numbers only include premature deaths associated with preventable harm. Medical malpractice cases cause injury or other harm, even if they are not deadly. 

A medical mistake that causes patient injury can happen at any point in patient care, from failing to attend to an emergency condition to prescribing the wrong medicine. The doctor, hospital, nurse, or anyone else in the healthcare industry can be responsible for causing injury. Types of medical malpractice cases include: 

What happens after a medical mistake depends on the type of error. In some cases, the doctor may have no idea that they messed up. It may only come up later that the doctor was responsible for a preventable injury. For example, in some surgical situations, a foreign object is left behind in the patient’s body after an accident. This could include a surgical sponge, scalpel, or needle. The patient may suffer pain or infection but it may take weeks, months, or even years before the cause of the injury is discovered. 

In other medical mistakes, the surgeon may immediately know they did something wrong. For example, during surgery, a surgeon cutting tissue may puncture the bowel or colon. This can create a serious risk of infection, such as peritonitis. If the doctor recognizes the problem immediately, they can respond with proper treatment and reduce the risk of further injury. However, the doctor may not necessarily admit what happened to the patient.  

Depending on the type of injury, the patient may have to receive additional medical care to treat the injury. This could include additional surgery, cosmetic surgery, a longer stay in the hospital, infection treatment, and pain management. When the doctor causes the injury but does not admit to it, the patient is generally responsible for taking care of their medical treatment, including having to pay for the care, even if it was avoidable. 

If the doctor refuses to acknowledge the error or the hospital won’t help, the patient may have to get help from someone else. Contacting a medical malpractice attorney can be the first step to recovering money. A medical malpractice law firm can review the patient’s records, identify evidence of a medical mistake, and file a lawsuit to help the injury victim get the money they deserve. 

Why Do Medical Mistakes Occur?

Medical mistakes can be caused by several reasons. Mistakes can be caused by the doctor, hospital, pharmacist, nurse, or by just about any healthcare worker. There may be no way to guarantee that a medical mistake won’t cause an injury to you or your family. However, if one does happen, you can get help to recover damages. Some reasons medical mistakes occur include:

  • Fatigue
  • Inattention
  • Rushing
  • Multitasking
  • Clerical errors
  • Improper sterilization and cleaning
  • Computer errors
  • Negligent hiring
  • Lack of training
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to follow procedures
  • Using defective medical devices

For example, after a surgery, a patient suffers a serious infection at the wound site. The patient suffers pain, disfiguration, and requires additional medical care. After an investigation, the medical malpractice lawyer discovers the hospital attendant who sterilized the scalpel wasn’t following the proper procedures. The hospital didn’t properly train the attendant in sealing sterilized equipment. The surgeon used the scalpel knowing the item wasn’t sealed or sterile. In this case, the hospital, the attendant, and the surgeon could all have been the cause of the infection injury

Healthcare workers can be under a lot of stress. The healthcare industry often focuses on profits over patient care. They may pressure doctors and nurses to see more patients more quickly. Rushing care can put patients at risk of a medical mistake when they don’t get the proper care they need. Regardless of the cause of a medical mistake, what is the doctor’s duty to the patient after making an error?

Doctors Have a Duty to Disclose Mistakes

Doctors go through years of education, training, and practical experience in order to learn how to provide proper care. However, doctors are also held to an ethical standard. According to one study, “while honesty has always been understood as the best policy, it has also played a role in the temptation to lie.”  

Being honest with a patient is valuable in healthcare. Disclosure of a mistake respects the patient and their autonomy. The truth allows the patient to make the correct decisions in their healthcare. Even if the news is hard to hear for the patient, it is up to the patient to decide how to proceed. If the doctor lies and doesn’t disclose the mistake, any additional harm is the fault of the doctor not being honest. 

Honest and truthful information is also important for patients and doctors to collaborate in decision-making and treatment. When a patient knows what has gone wrong and what needs to be done, they may be better able to deal with the treatment and any painful consequences that are understood and foreseeable. This can also help a patient avoid incorrect treatment or overtreatment

When the Doctor Denies a Mistake

Like any other profession, doctors can make a mistake. When doctors do make a mistake, it can be serious. Serious medical errors can result in death, permanent injury, disability, loss of a limb, disfiguration, or chronic pain. However, even after making a mistake, some doctors chose to lie instead of admitting the truth. 

Doctors may be motivated to lie for a lot of reasons. One of the most common reasons for failing to disclose a mistake is that the doctor is simply afraid. They may be afraid to admit they did something wrong. The doctor may be worried about their reputation in the medical community, among co-workers, and with patients. However, the doctor’s ego is not enough to justify lying to a patient. 


Doctors may also fail to disclose an error because they believe telling the patient about a serious injury will cause anxiety, depression, or fear. However, failing to tell the truth may not reduce the anxiety, fear, or depression of a medical problem. It allows the patient to deal with the reality on their own terms. Once it is discovered, the patient may also develop a distrust of doctors and healthcare that is more serious in the long term. 

A doctor may also lie because they are afraid of a lawsuit. A medical malpractice lawsuit can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in a settlement or court award. However, a study by the University of Michigan showed that communication and cooperation with the patient resulted in fewer malpractice lawsuits and lower litigation costs. 

When the Doctor Admits to a Mistake

Admitting to a mistake can be much more beneficial for both the doctor and the patient. Historically, when there was a medical mistake, the doctors and hospitals would take the position of “deny and defend.” The strategy involved providing little information to the patient and not admitting fault. This strategy is more geared toward defending the wrongdoer and not being patient-centered care. 

However, some hospitals and institutions have implemented the opposite strategy of “communication and response.” This approach emphasizes early disclosure of errors and problems and a proactive view to achieving a mutually beneficial outcome. Communication and response strategies involve full disclosure of problems, investigations, taking steps to avoid similar problems from happening again, apologizing for any errors, and financial compensation, when appropriate.  

In an article in the Baltimore Sun, a patient was left paralyzed after a medical equipment malfunction during spinal surgery. However, the injury victim does not harbor a grudge against the doctor or hospital. According to the article, “That’s in large part because the physician immediately apologized, and the hospital took care of Gentry’s medical bills and worked out a compensation plan for long-term care without going to court.”

However, even when a patient wants to work with the hospital after a medical injury, the patient can still get the help and advice of a medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer can advocate for their client to make sure any settlement offer is fair and covers the patient’s damages, losses, and harm. 

Communication and Optimal Resolution

In order to help achieve an amicable and fair resolution after an adverse event, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) developed a tool kit for hospitals and health care providers. According to AHRQ, “Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) is a process that health care institutions and practitioners can use to respond in a timely, thorough, and just way when unexpected events cause patient harm.”

According to AHRQ, more than 1.5 million preventable infections occur every year among inpatients, and this is only one of many types of avoidable patient harm. There is a strong correlation between how often adverse medical events occur and medical malpractice claims. This may not be surprising because more medical mistakes mean there are more patients seeking to recover compensation for their injuries. 

Fixing medical mistakes and reducing unnecessary risks can lead to safer care, fewer adverse events, and reduced medical liability costs for healthcare providers and facilities. According to AHRQ, the CANDOR process improves patient care through: 

  • Empathetic, fair, and just approach to medical errors;
  • Promotes a culture of safety focusing on the patient, family, and caregiver;
  • Provides an in-depth investigation and analysis; and 
  • Finding an appropriate resolution.

Steps to Take After a Medical Mistake

If your doctor admits to a mistake, your first priority is focusing on your care and well-being. Make sure your doctor is open and honest about what happened, what options are available, and the risks and benefits of each treatment option. With full disclosure of what went wrong and a focus on repair and recovery, you will have the information you need to make the best decision for you and your family. 

Your next step may be to talk to a medical malpractice attorney about your rights and options. A medical expert will be able to look at your case, and identify the cause or causes of the injury, proper treatment options, and the possible long-term effects of the injury. Your lawyer can negotiate with the doctor or hospital to help you reach an acceptable settlement resolution. If the hospital is trying to give you less than you deserve, you can take your case to court to recover full damages.

Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after a medical malpractice injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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