Why don’t more doctors admit to mistakes?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

A 2002 study by New England Journal of Medicine discovered that when preventable medical errors happened, just one in three were being reported to patients. This, despite the fact that, according to national standards, medical professionals must inform patients about the outcome of their care, even when the outcome is unanticipated. In an article that generated its fair share of backlash, a doctor admitted to making errors over the course of his career.

Namely, he confessed to having prescribed a drug to which a patient had an allergy. He also recounted another doctor who had left behind a sponge in a patient after an operation. That doctor told the family of his error immediately. However, upon hearing of these confessions, other colleagues balked, questioning his reasoning. After all, if the patient isn’t harmed or eventually recovers, wouldn’t that only serve to build distrust among patients and dethrone the idea of the doctor as virtually omniscient?

The fact is that admitting mistakes and apologizing isn’t handled in most medical schools, and doctors were often instructed to never admit guilt for a medical error. When prompted, doctors were to speak in vague terms and avoid the subject. This cloistered approach hasn’t worked. In fact, another study, conducted by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services found that a shocking one in seven inpatients using Medicare had suffered a mistake. An unforgivable 44 percent of those were completely preventable.

Until doctors are willing to fess up, patients will continue to be injured and left in the dark. If you think you’ve been victimized by a doctor’s error, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney.

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