Medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is traditionally not very forthcoming
when it comes to revealing medical errors.
To help eliminate the taboo of reporting medical errors, a group of researchers
recently published new guidelines in the
New England Journal of Medicine for dealing with the mistake of a fellow health professional. The report
acknowledges that while doctors may find it difficult to disclose the
error of a colleague, reporting adverse events is critical to patient safety.
“Although anxieties about damaging collegial relationships loom large
in situations of potential error involving other clinicians, a patient’s
right to honest information shared with compassion about what happened
to him or her is paramount. Simply put, when disclosure is ethically required,
the fact that it is difficult must not stand in the way. Patients and
families should not bear the burden of digging for information about problems
in their care,” the authors state.
The new guidelines stress the importance of exploring rather than ignoring
potential mistakes, with the goal of establishing what happened and, if
needed, how to communicate with the patient. Under the recommendations,
institutions also play a critical role overseeing the investigation and
making sure patients are not kept in the dark.
“The historical norm is that being a good colleague means not saying
anything, having their back, when you think they’ve made a mistake,”
said Dr. Thomas Gallagher, a University of Washington professor of medicine
and bioethics who led the team. “We’re asking people to turn
toward their colleagues in those instances.”