Silence about medical errors puts patients at risk

Patients put much trust in the opinions and procedures that medical staff perform. Furthermore, young or new doctors and surgeons rely on the supervision to comment on and perfect their medical knowledge and procedures. When someone fails to correct or comment on medical treatment, their performance could lead to harm or tragedy.

Silence can kill. That is what a new report from The New England Journal of Medicine has concluded. One of the leading causes of death in the United States, including Maryland, is now medical error.

More than half of doctors surveyed said they had identified at least one error committed by a colleague in the preceding year. When asked what actions they took after discovering those errors, few of them admitted reporting errors made by others even though they are required to report them to their own supervisors.

Although many medical professionals meet their ethical responsibility of disclosing their own errors to their patients, there are no rules about reporting medical errors that other physicians make. Most doctors do not want to report others' errors because it would put them in a difficult professional situation of being viewed as tattlers. A tattler can lose referrals from other doctors and thus could end up in business trouble with fewer patients.

Doctors also may not have complete details about others' mistakes and their causes. Physicians are human. At some point, they make mistakes like everyone else. They have emotions and may feel conflicted about disclosing another physician's error.

At bottom, though, many doctors do not learn from their own errors because few colleagues are willing to confront them. Even after they learn about their errors, they frequently fail to communicate the facts to their patients, who are denied information needed for proper treatment or compensation.

Medical professionals are entirely capable of reporting incidents of medical malpractice to their supervisors, whether they harmed patients or not. They need to be assertive because the well-being of patients is on the line.

In cases in which a medical error results in injury to a patient, the doctor or the hospital can be held liable. This could lead to a medical malpractice suit, which could result in compensation for the patient who suffered injuries, damages and pain and suffering.

Those who feel they are a victim of or have been affected by medical negligence should understand their situation. Obtaining advice about their options could help protect their rights and interests.

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