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Medical error disclosure

Medical error disclosure

Many physicians agree that informing patients about serious medical errors is important. However, in many instances they may avoid full disclosure of pertinent information. Full disclosure of medical error information includes explaining what errors have taken place, how those errors occurred, what can be done to minimize the harmful effects of those errors, acknowledging responsibility for the errors and detailing what the physician and institution will do in the future to prevent such errors.

The embarrassment of admitting fault to something that could possibly have serious effects on the patient’s health could be one reason why many physicians avoid disclosing medical error information. However, this can be harmful to the patient and to the reputation of the institution at which the error occurred.

Many institutions are moving away from old polices that involved denying fault and withholding information regarding the error from the patient and their family. Instead, many are now moving towards new policies that involve a more dynamic approach. New polices that doctors not only fully disclose information about the medical error but offer apologies and financial recompense as soon as possible after an incident occurs, lead to fewer medical malpractice lawsuits.

Transparency regarding medical error information is being endorsed by more medical organizations, such as the Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum, now than in the past. Additionally, seven states now require disclosure of unanticipated medical outcomes.

Many physicians may avoid disclosing medical error information because of a fear of lawsuits. Only eight states have laws that ban “admissions of fault” from being used as evidence in a civil trial, so this fear may be well founded. However, patients tend to be less likely to file medical malpractice lawsuits when doctors offer full disclosure of medical mistakes.

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “Error Disclosure“, November 01, 2014

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