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    Monday, January 11, 2010

    Only 24% of Doctors Report Medical Errors Committed On Their Patients

    Under the American Medical Association Code of Ethics, physicians have an ethical obligation to advise a patient when they commit consequential acts of medical malpractice where "a patient suffers significant medical complications that may have resulted from the physician’s mistake or judgment." Am. Med. Ass’n Code of Medical Ethics A-02 Edition, E-8.12 Patient Information, 77. Similarly, the American College of Physicians Ethics Manual mandates disclosure of errors if disclosure of this information is "material to the patient’s well-being." Lois Snyder & Cathy Leffler, Ethics Manual, Fifth Edition, 142 Ann Intern Med 560, 563. Finally, the Joint Commission requires that patients be informed of unanticipated results that differ from the expected outcome in a significant way when a medical error occurs at a hospital. Joint Comm’n on Accreditation of Health Care Orgs., Revisions to Joint Commission Standards in Support of Patient Safety and Medical/Health Care Error Reduction 12 (2001).
    Disclosure of medical errors is not only ethically mandated, it is consistent with the fiduciary nature of the physician-patient relationship, since in most instances, disclosure of errors will be help the patient to understand why unexpected problems have developed. Some commentators have suggested that since patients need information about errors to make decisions about their medical care, disclosure of malpractice is part of a physician’s duty to provide a patient with informed consent. Thomas H. Gallagher, Wendy Levinson, Disclosing Medical Errors to Patients: a Status Report in 2007,177(3) Can Med Assn J 265 (2007).
    In theory, physicians agree that they have an ethical obligation to disclose medical errors. One study suggests that between 70% and 90% of the physician population believes that doctors should disclose errors to patients. Kathleen M. Mazor et al., Communicating with Patients about Medical Errors, 164 Arch Intern Med 1690, 1692 (2004). In another study, 97% of the faculty and resident population surveyed indicated that they would disclose medical errors that caused minor harm, and 93% indicated that they would disclose an error causing major harm. Lauris Kaldjian, et al., Disclosing Medical Errors to Patients: Attitudes and Practices of Physicians and Trainees, 22(7) J Gen Intern Med 988-96 (2007). This being the case, one would expect physicians, nearly universally, to report medical errors to their patients. However, research does not bear this theory out. For example, one study revealed that only 24% of residents surveyed reported the medical errors they committed to their patients. Albert Wu, et al., Do House Officers Learn from Their Mistakes? 12 Quality & Safety Health Care 221, 224 (2003). Another study estimated that, nationwide, physicians are only disclosing errors to patients about 1/3 of the time. Robert J. Blendon et al., Views of Practicing Physicians and the Public on Medical Errors, 347 New. Eng. J. Med. 1933, 1935 (2002).

    Please remember, as with all our articles we provide information, not medical advice.
    For any treatment of your own medical condition you must visit your local doctor, with or without our article[s]. These articles are not to be taken as individual medical advice.


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