Issac J. Bailey | Medical mistakes of omission

A plea to doctors:

Talk to your patients.

Some of you already do a fine job with this seemingly small thing.

But many of you don’t.

I know a woman who recently saw her primary physician for a routine mammogram.

The results were supposed to come back the next day.

Days went by without a call from the doctor’s office.

The assumption grew that nothing was wrong.

A few days later the woman got a call, not from her doctor – but from the Coastal Carolina Breast Center asking when she could come in for a biopsy.

She didn’t know if the biopsy was being scheduled out of an abundance of caution, or if there was real reason to be concerned.

She didn’t know how to respond emotionally to a voicemail message telling her to come to a breast cancer facility just months after an older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and had multiple surgeries and treatments and the mental and physical scars to show for it.

She didn’t know because her doctor didn’t find the 5 minutes over the phone (or by whatever means) it would have taken to explain what was happening.

That’s a cold, detached way to do business.

It’s the opposite of care, a lack of service.

Doctors likely deal with these sorts of things daily, seeing dozens if not hundreds of patients and ordering and examining thousands of tests.

It may be routine to them, and probably has to be, given time constraints and the need to juggle the wants and needs of a variety of different patients with different profiles and different personalities.

But it’s not routine to the woman on the cold end of a call from the breast cancer center, not routine to her husband, not routine to her family and friends, whom she has to decide to tell or not based on a paucity of information.

Should she say something and alarm friends unnecessarily for what could turn out to be nothing much?

Or should she say nothing and deal alone with the mixed bag of emotions dumped in her lap?

It’s not just about breast cancer.

Pick any serious disease and the lesson applies just the same.

Our common humanity should make this obvious, but just in case that doesn’t convince you, here’s a business-related reason:

Most doctors who face malpractice suits aren’t sued because of mistakes, but because of a poor relationship with a patient.

“… [T]he overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all,” wrote Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink.” “In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care and something else happens to them.”

“What is that something else? It’s how they were treated, on a personal level, by their doctor. What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly. ‘People just don’t sue doctors they like.’”

A patient has a way of excusing medical missteps, no matter how trivial or serious, when they have been convinced a doctor has his or her best interest at heart.

Without such conviction, that patient tends to be less forgiving.