Medical errors are one of the most common causes of death in the United States. There are times when patients do not know when their doctor has made a mistake. However, other doctors often do. This puts them in a difficult ethical situation: Whether they should tell the patient of the mistake their doctor make? More often than not doctors do not.
A professor from the University of Washington School of Medicine conducted a survey of doctors. More than half of the doctors surveyed said that over the past year they had identified at least one error that had been made by a colleague. The doctors were not asked whether they did anything about it.
It is widely accepted in the medical community that doctors hold an ethical duty to disclose their own errors to their patients. However, there has not been much discussion about what a doctor should do if they have discovered another doctor’s mistake. There are many reasons why a doctor may wish to stay quiet about the errors their peers have made.
- Doctors depend on other doctors for business. If a doctor breaks the code of silence, they may lose referrals.
- The doctor may not be sure exactly what happened to the patient and does not want to take the time to figure it out.
- Doctors may be wary of becoming involved in a medical malpractice case, or having one of their colleagues face legal consequences.
- A doctor may be concerned about facing hostility that may come back to them in peer review and quality assurance.
Unfortunately, there is too much leniency when a doctor discovers a mistake. Doctors are not learning from their errors. Additionally, even if the patient learns of the error, the poor communication by the doctor will often continue.
One report emphasizes that the patient comes first and it recommends that doctors should not ignore the error of a colleague. A one on one conversation should be made with the physician who made the error to determine how to inform the patient. Reporting medical errors should be a top priority so that something can be learned from the mistakes.
The doctor-patient relationship is undermined when a doctor’s mistake are not divulged. Patients begin to wonder if they can trust their own doctor. Patients need to be protected. When a patient is harmed the incident needs to be investigate so that the patient and their family can be told of the mistake, an apology can be made, and can offer compensation.
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