But many experts agree that concealing medical errors, being dishonest, or practicing overly defensive medicine isn't the way to thwart malpractice litigation.
Research shows that the more likely physicians are to discuss errors with patients, the less likely they will be sued, Iezzoni says. Perhaps it makes the doctors seem less god-like and more human, so patients can relate to them.
"Some physicians may wonder about revealing errors to certain patients if no serious harm resulted from them. I know a lot of physicians are reluctant to talk about medical errors. But the more open you are in talking about errors, the less likely patients are going to pursue litigation, and the more likely you are going to gain the trust of patients, and be able to move forward in a therapeutic way," Iezzoni said.
Among other things, informing patients about the errors can "reduce anger," she adds. "If you talk openly to patients in situations where errors happened, it makes patients understand better what happened, why it happened and makes them less likely to pursue litigation as a solution to it."
Iezzoni notes that academic literature stretching back to the 1990s has shown that "openness" in communication between physicians and patients has potentially positive impacts on avoiding malpractice suits.
As for Iezzoni and her colleagues, their biggest concern wasn't simply the malpractice issue. It was the totality of honesty in communications between physicians and patients, for whatever the reason.
Why aren't doctors always upfront with patients? "I think there are probably as many reasons as there are doctors and patients," she says.