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What Do Doctors Tell Patients (or Fail to Tell Them) After Medical Errors?

Posted on January 16, 2017 by Kelly Wolford
Our Albany medical malpractice lawyers report on what do doctors tell patients (or fail to tell them) after medical errors.

Most of us would agree: When serious medical errors occur, doctors should tell their patients. However, a survey published a few years ago revealed that many doctors do not share that view. In fact, many doctors actually think it is OK to tell patients something that is untrue.

In 2012, the journal, Health Affairs, reported the survey of nearly 1,900 practicing doctors from across the country. The researchers sought to gauge how widely doctors “endorse and follow” the Charter on Medical Professionalism’s requirement that doctors communicate with patients with “openness and honesty.”

As Health Affairs reported, most doctors in the survey said they believed that doctors should fully tell patients about the benefits and risks of medical interventions. However, a high number said they do not believe that doctors should be so forthcoming when treatment goes wrong.

Roughly 33 percent of the doctors said they did not “completely agree” that they should disclose “serious medical errors” to patients. Also, nearly 20 percent said they believed it may be all right to tell patients something untrue in some situations.

Medical Errors Occur Too Often

These survey results raise serious concerns – especially when one considers the high number of medical errors that occur in our country.

As The Washington Post reports, patient-safety researchers recently released a study which found that medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Medical errors actually cause 251,000 deaths per year, claiming more lives than respiratory disease, accidents, Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. Only cancer and heart disease cause more deaths than medical errors, according to the study, which was published in BMJ.

Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report that described preventable medical errors as an “epidemic” in our country. Interestingly, when that report came out, an estimated 98,000 medical error-related deaths occurred each year in the U.S. So, the number of medical error-related deaths in the U.S. has more than doubled today – the “epidemic” problem has only grown worse.

A lack of transparency may contribute to this growing problem. When mistakes are not disclosed, they cannot be adequately addressed by patients or the wider medical community.

Unfortunately, in a Washington Post article, Dr. Manoj Jain wrote that nearly everyone in the medical profession – colleagues, risk managers and hospital lawyers – discourages doctors from admitting their mistakes. Also, medical schools fail to teach doctors how to disclose errors, according to Jain.

Why Should Doctors Tell Patients About Medical Errors?

Some of the most common medical mistakes today are missed diagnoses (such as a missed or delayed cancer diagnosis), medication errors and surgical errors. Doctors and hospitals should tell patients and their families when these errors occur.

When medical professionals disclose errors, it gives patients the opportunity to get the medical treatment they need in order to address the error. It also creates a stronger, healthier bond between the doctor and the patient. This is especially true when the doctor not only acknowledges the error but also apologizes for it.

You Have Rights as a Patient in New York

When you are a patient, you should expect honesty from your doctor. The doctor should openly tell you about your condition and your treatment options. The doctor should also inform you about any mistakes or errors that occur in your diagnosis or treatment.

If you ask questions, and a doctor fails to provide you with honest answers, it exposes you to great harm. In other words: If you have no idea whether an error occurred, how can you address it?

When your doctor makes an error, you also have the right to pursue compensation for any losses that you have suffered as a result of that error. At Powers & Santola, LLP, our experienced New York medical malpractice attorneys are here to protect that right.

Call or reach us online today if you believe that a serious medical error harmed you or a loved one. We can provide a free consultation and immediately begin work on your case.