Honesty Really Is The Best Policy
I spent all day friday last week at a risk management seminar for doctors. The main reason I signed up? Because all doctors are required to do a certain amount of formal learning, and a certain amount of that needs to be in risk management. Hence, I found myself in a hotel ballroom-turned-conference room for eight hours, listening to lectures like Current Essentials in Risk Avoidance.
I had been prepared to be bored to tears, but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the course. I truly enjoyed the risk avoidance lecture, entertainingly delivered by surgeon Odysseus Argy, who not only has a cool name, but a refreshing message:
Just treat every patient the way you’d want your family treated, and you’re likely to be just fine.
He emphasized that every doctor should strive for a truly patient-centered practice: It should be easy for the patient to communicate with us and our office staff. We should provide timely and clear responses to questions. We should be direct and transparent in our interactions.
And if there is an error? We should take responsibility, explain, and apologize. His point was that we should do these things not for the purpose of avoiding litigation, but because it’s the right thing to do, and what we would expect from the doctors who treat our own family members.
This message resonated with me. Recently, I’ve written about medical errors, and how to best manage these, here on this blog , on the Mothers in Medicine blog, as well as at Harvard Health Blog. It’s been fifteen years since I earned my M.D. degree, and one thing I’ve learned is that honesty is the best policy. Lies, whether of commission or omission, erode integrity and rot souls. As I concluded: “I’d rather be honest and upfront and be sued, than sit in a toxic stew of guilt and shame.”
What’s more: If we don’t admit errors, we can’t learn from them, and neither can anyone else.
The nice thing is, and as many speakers at this risk management conference pointed out, an honesty-is-the-best policy does reduce litigation. This phenomenon has been well-described .
Yet another reason for us to be upfront and straightforward in practice.