Admitting Medical Errors and Making an Apology to Patients

December 2, 2014

Patients Often Suffer Medical Mistakes Without Apology or Acknowledgement From Doctors

When patients are affected by a medical mistake, they rarely hear the words “I’m sorry”—and they might not hear about it at all. National Public Radio (NPR) recently published an article addressing the issues surrounding the non-disclosure of medical errors and the pressing question of why doctors and hospitals have only rarely taken responsibility for mistakes in the past.

Medical Mistakes Are More Common Than You Might Think

Medical mistakes are very common, and NPR cites a 2013 study from the Journal of Patient Safety, saying that an estimated 210,000 hospital patients die every year due to medical errors—and that number doesn’t include the many other patients who are harmed outside of the hospital, left with non-life-threatening injuries, or make a full recovery.

The reality is that human error is always a possibility in medical care. But why are so many mistakes hidden from patients and their families, and why do so many families end up paying for errors they weren’t responsible for? Unfortunately, there has been a long-time policy of silence about mistakes in the medical community, but new changes in the patient-care industry may be forcing medical providers and facilities to reconsider how these kinds of incidents are handled.

What Should Happen After a Medical Mistake

In a perfect world, care providers who make medical mistakes would take responsibility for their errors and reach out to patients in order to:

  • Disclose. Even when errors are known, patients may not be informed. The first step toward taking responsibility for a medical mistake is letting a patient know what happened and why.
  • Apologize. Although an apology can’t change what happened, patients deserve a sincere apology when the provider they’ve trusted with their health makes a mistake.
  • Compensate. While negligent doctors and hospitals should foot the bill after a mistake and sometimes do, the Journal of Patient Safety published data that showed at least 30 percent of patients hurt by medical mistakes end up paying some or all of the costs of the error.


In practice, however, doctors are often hesitant to take responsibility for mistakes and oversights, and the problem may not be as easy to address as it should be.

Why Doctors May Be Hesitant to Admit Medical Mistakes

Why are medical professionals so hesitant to admit their mistakes? Many doctors and care providers fail to address mistakes because:

  • They are afraid of humiliation and loss of reputation.
  • They fear malpractice claims from patients.
  • They simply don’t know how to react because they’ve never been trained for the event.
  • They are following hospital or risk-management policies at work.


In many cases, these roadblocks to transparency could be opened with the right training and policies in place, but it has so long been an industry practice to hide errors that hospitals and doctors are hesitant to start looking at the problem. However, with the urging of advocates around the nation, change may be close on the horizon for many care providers.

How Disclosure Policies Help

As more medical schools begin to address the issue of medical mistakes and more medical facilities and hospitals adopt disclosure policies, patients may see a major change in how they are treated after an error. Additionally, other care providers and medical support staff—such as nurses, medical assistants, dentists, pharmacists, and more—are also now more likely to receive training about how to handle mistakes ethically and with the patient in mind.

Beyond the ethical concerns, there is some evidence that training and formal disclosure policies actually help reduce malpractice claims after errors, could actually build patient-doctor relationships, and don’t have a dramatic effect on whether or not a patient pursues legal action.

However, despite the ways patient care is changing, some medical providers and facilities still attempt to conceal medical mistakes as a matter of policy—and when they do, patients can get help uncovering the truth.

If you or your loved ones have been hurt because a doctor, pharmacist, dentist, nurse, or other care provider made a mistake, you deserve an apology and some acknowledgement of the error. For more information about your rights in these difficult situations, or to take advantage of a free case review, don’t hesitate to contact our office by using the live-chat service on this page.

Get Answers, Contact Us Now REQUEST A CONSULTATION
OR CALL NOW 312-332-1400