It is clear that when a physician has made a harmful mistake that the physician should inform the patient. However, there is a question as to whether a physician needs to tell the patient when a mistake is minor and harmless. Two thirds of physicians believe that the patient should be told so that honesty with their patients is maintained. Others believed however that informing patients of oversights that were not harmful would lead to unnecessary distress and it is okay not to reveal the mistake. The final group believed that it depended on the situation.
In the opinion of some physicians there was a difference between “covering up” and “not revealing” a mistake that was harmless. All physicians felt that it was wrong to cover up a mistake without justification. There were some physicians who felt that not revealing a mistake that was harmless was okay as long as the circumstances justified it. It was felt that by “covering up” a mistake, the physician would the actively trying to hide what was done, while by “not revealing” the mistake, it was more passive and the physician was therefore not trying to hide the mistake.
Not all mistakes are the same however. There are some errors that are harmful to patients. There are inconsequential errors that need to be caught before they reach the patient. Errors such as slip-ups in documentation were felt not to be necessary to reveal, especially if they had been corrected immediately. Other types of errors, such as incorrect prescription or treatment orders that were corrected immediately, also did not need to be revealed to the patient. If the mistake reached the patient, even if no harm was caused, there were some doctors who felt that the mistake should be disclosed because treatment was actually received by the patient.
There were many physicians who felt that by unnecessarily disclosing non-harmful mistakes, that there would be an increased risk of legal action taken against the physician. Others, however, felt that admitting mistakes increased patient and physician trust, lowering the risk that the patient would bring a medical malpractice lawsuit.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a physician error, and have suffered harm as a result, contact an experienced Kingston, New York medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your case.
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