Physicians and other healthcare providers’ medical mistakes have long-term consequences for patients, their families, and even doctors. A key aspect of healthcare delivery is figuring out how to inform patients and their families about medical errors. However, hospitals and doctors may be unable to report any of the mistakes for fear of being sued. According to the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, hospitals and doctors must inform their patients to make mistakes when discharging service. According to this article, the critical reason hospitals in the United States do not report medical errors to their patients is the fear of litigation.
The disclosure comes in the form of issuing an apology to the patients. An apology is a statement from the health care facility or the person who has committed the error. Through an apology, the hospital or the responsible person takes responsibility for the error and express since regret or remorse for having committed the mistake. An apology may also include a promise of never repeating the blunder in the future. In some cases, healthcare facilities compensate the victims in the form of money or offering medical care at no fee. Issuing an apology to the victim underlines hospital’s commitment to avoid mistakes in the future and builds trust between hospitals and their patients.
Hospitals, just like their patients get affected by medical errors. They are always concerned with the consequences they might have to suffer after committing medical errors. Doctors fear losing trust, getting fired or paying very hefty fines. But the biggest fear for hospitals following medical errors is the pain of legal charges pressed by the affected patients and their families. The fear of having to face legal consequences may prevent medical facilities from disclosing and admitting to having committed errors. The litigation process may land doctors jail terms cost their jobs, or attract hefty fines that may leave them bankrupt for the rest of their lives (Gallagher et al., 2003).
Most medical facilities and physicians may express a desire to disclose medical errors and take responsibility, but the fear of lawsuits prevents them from doing that. Physicians have fears that disclosing the errors and issuing apologies to the affected people may not work. However, evidence suggests that apologies eliminate the burden of blame on doctors and makes patients less likely to press charges. Admitting to medical errors is an ethical practice in the medical profession. Disclosing medical mistakes is also part of managing the risk of litigation for hospitals. Fear of litigation prevents physicians and medical facilities from developing strategies for detecting and correcting medical errors once they occur (Lamb, 2004).
Doctors’ concerns may be based on the lack of understanding of the legal system. There is a huge misconception within the medical profession that covering up errors is the best strategy for preventing litigation risk. However, hospitals may face legal liability if they fail to disclose medical errors because the lack of disclosures denies the victims a chance to correct the anomalies that might have occurred promptly (Gallagher et al., 2007).
Medicine is a profession that places a heavy focus on perfection. It is an occupation that requires first class professionalism from doctors and as such medical errors are perceived negatively within the profession. Therefore the fear of bearing the blame and facing legal action prevents medical facilities from revealing mistakes and taking steps to prevent them in future. Physicians’ fear of litigation for medical error disclosure more than often places the lives of patients at a huge risk.
Gallagher, T. H., Studdert, D., & Levinson, W. (2007). Disclosing harmful medical errors topatients. New England Journal of Medicine, 356(26), 2713-2719.
Gallagher, T. H., Waterman, A. D., Ebers, A. G., Fraser, V. J., & Levinson, W. (2003). Patients’ and physicians’ attitudes regarding the disclosure of medical errors. Jama, 289(8), 1001-1007.
Lamb, R. (2004). Open disclosure: the only approach to medical error. Quality and Safety in Health Care,13: 3-5.