Sandeep Jauhar, Explain a Medical Error? Sure. Apologize Too?, New York Times, january 1 2008:
Most doctors are afraid to take responsibility for medical errors. We are acutely aware of the potential hazards — legal and professional — of taking ownership of a mistake. But studies have shown that physicians’ apologies do not necessarily increase malpractice lawsuits. In fact, they may protect against litigation. Seventeen states have enacted legislation encouraging such apologies, some even making physicians’ expressions of remorse inadmissible in court.
It was not always this way. Hospital legal departments routinely used to advise doctors never to admit responsibility for an error.
During my internship orientation nearly a decade ago, a lawyer for the hospital said that at some point in our careers every one of us would likely be sued. The lawyer offered some advice: document your decision-making; document when a patient refuses treatment; never admit wrongdoing; never talk to an opposing attorney; and, finally, be nice to your patients. Doctors who were nice to their patients were rarely sued, even in cases of egregious malpractice.