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Peers in medicine face internal struggle over reporting errors

There is what in TV and movies at least some characters might call a "snitch." Among groups of kids, there is the "tattle tale." These are not ideal classifications that most would want to take on. But there are situations when telling the truth is of utmost importance.

A medical malpractice scenario is one of those situations that deserves honesty. Because there is stigma associated with telling the truth, whether it comes from the notion of being a tattle tale or being a snitch, even esteemed medical professionals might hesitate to tell the truth.

If a surgeon sees a patient and is even fixing a mistake that another doctor might have made, for example, research suggests that he might decide to not tell the patient of his peer's medical error. Doesn't that patient have the right to know? Some patient-safety advocates argue that, yes, the patient should know. Not only that, but his or her current doctor should report the mistake.

In an ideal, simpler world, patient safety and honesty would be medical professionals' only worries. A survey of doctors, however, paints a picture of an industry in which emotion, politics and peer opinion often work to silence doctors who spot their peers' medical errors.

Maybe the doctors are friends; one doesn't want to tell on his buddy since med school. Maybe a doctor gets many patient referrals from his peer who made the error. Does he want to risk that professionally beneficial relationship? These are just a couple of reasons why doctors admit that many cases of doctor error go unreported.

While these excuses might be important to doctors, they don't matter to a patient. Patients deserve more than excuses. They deserve the truth and full knowledge regarding the medical negligence that significantly impacts their well-being. Someone who believes he or she is a victim of a hospital error should discuss their experience with a medical malpractice lawyer.

 

Source: Pacific Standard, "Why Doctors Stay Silent About Mistakes Their Colleagues Make," Marshall Allen, Nov. 25, 2013

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