Are Doctors Willing to Reveal or Discuss When a Colleague Makes an Error with a Patient?

Doctors having discussion

When a medical mistake happens, and they happen often, doctors and other medical staff often close ranks. We’ve seen it many times when a victim of a medical error is shut out by the people responsible. Several issues are at play here, and one of them is fraternity among doctors and hospitals, where mistakes are not discussed unless absolutely necessary.

Medical mistakes are blamed for up to 440,000 deaths in U.S. hospitals each year, according to NBC News. Many of these deaths are preventable. But how they are handled varies widely from one case to the next, and from one state to the next.

Speaking Out About Doctor Mistakes Rare in Medical Industry

One area that is definitely in need of improvement is a current culture among doctors, in which talking about a colleague’s mistake or error with a patient is rarely welcome. It’s further complicated by the fact that medical care to a patient is frequently provided by a “team” of doctors. When a doctor sees a colleague make a mistake or becomes aware of a medical error that could cause patient harm, it’s a delicate issue. Doctors struggle with who they should talk to about an error, whether to tell the patient, and what to say. Doctors are reluctant to acquire a reputation among colleagues as a whistle blower and uncertain about how another doctor or a medical institution will react to a disclosure.

In 37 states, doctors can now apologize for medical errors without fear that the apology will adversely affect them in a medical malpractice claim. Previously, such a fear often kept patients from hearing the words that would offer a little solace in their time of crisis.

But communication among doctors and hospitals about medical errors is still lacking. And the silence hurts the entire healthcare industry in the process. This also affects a patient’s trust relationship with the healthcare professionals who are providing care.

A New Culture of Communication

New guidelines published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine seek to change the culture of communication for doctors, specifically how they address medical mistakes and problems with their colleagues.

A working group including experts in medical malpractice law and insurance, patient safety, error disclosure, bioethics, health policy, professionalism, and patient-provider communication were convened to discuss colleague errors and the responsibilities of medical professionals.

Among other things, they found that ignoring a colleague’s error is often not only a matter of loyalty but a matter of not wanting to get involved, of it being “not my problem.” However, the experts said, it’s important for doctors to realize every action must be pursued with patient safety in mind, not necessarily doctor comfort.

The panel recommended that professionals turn towards one another when mistakes happen, rather than away. Communicating about an error, though uncomfortable, must be done in an effort to lessen the impact of the mistake and reduce the risk of future similar medical errors.

Doctors have to share responsibility when it comes to patient safety. They need to act collectively rather than independently. Clear lines of communication could propel patient safety into positive territory.

Indiana’s Medical Review Panel System

Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act requires that before a claim for medical malpractice can be filed in court, any medical malpractice claim must first go through a type of peer review.  In Indiana, a panel of physicians reviews each prospective medical malpractice claim. As outlined in the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, the medical panel issues an opinion as to whether the medical evidence supports the contention that the health care provider in question failed to provide treatment in accordance with the reasonable standard of care. The report may be introduced as evidence in court.

The Medical Review Panel process essentially has doctors or healthcare professionals evaluating the conduct of their colleagues and determining whether a mistake has been made. While this system is somewhat more removed from the situations described above, the panelists still frequently struggle with finding another physician to have breached the standard of care or committed medical malpractice.

Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorney On Your Side

The bottom line when it comes to medical mistakes and doctor communication is that patients and their families need to come first. Medical professionals will have to set aside their egos and personal interests at times in the interest of protecting patients. It may be uncomfortable for them, but it’s necessary. Often it takes a dedicated medical malpractice attorney to uncover what actually happened. At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we are aware of these issues, as well as the complications inherent with the medical review panel system.

Injured patients and their families need solid legal guidance after a serious medical error. At the Law Office of Kelley J. Johnson, we listen attentively to our clients’ questions and concerns. Our goal is to help them move forward after devastating, even fatal medical errors.