Doctors and hospitals opt for disclosure over secrecy

At times throughout any professional’s career, a second set of eyes can be helpful. When proofing a colleague’s work, a co-worker may notice an error or be able to provide helpful feedback on ways to improve upon a work product. Unfortunately, doctors and other medical professionals typically do not work in settings or under conditions that allow for an extra set of eyes. As a result, medical mistakes may occur that ultimately cause a patient to suffer harm or injury.

Traditionally, the health care field has been dominated by a culture in which colleagues protect one another through secrecy. For example the drinking habits of a doctor may be overlooked or ignored unless and until they became impossible to ignore. Likewise, colleagues who notice a doctor’s mistake may dismiss the mistake and fail to both address it with the doctor and report it to the hospital or patient.

Ego, pride, tradition and fear of retaliation are all factors that have contributed to a culture in which medical professionals believe they are doing the right thing by not saying anything. In reality, however, keeping quiet about medical mistakes may lead to a doctor or nurse making an even greater error that results in the serious injury or death of a patient.

New guidelines were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine related to how doctors and medical professionals should act upon noticing a colleague’s mistake. After instituting these guidelines, one Chicago-area hospital noted that reports of medical errors increased from 1,500 9,000.

Hospital administrators contend the implementation of the guidelines has been positive as problems that may have led to the error can be better identified and addressed. Likewise, the doctors or nurses who committed the errors are able to obtain the support they need to do their jobs. Most importantly, patients benefit from a medical culture that promotes full disclosure and transparency when it comes to medical errors.

Source: NBC News, “When docs make mistakes, should colleagues tell? Yes, report says,” JoNel Aleccia, Oct. 30, 2013

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