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Should colleagues report doctor errors?

When a mistake happens in a hospital setting the consequences can be extremely serious, ranging from a bodily injury to a potential fatality. Among medical professionals this is a worst case scenario, but unfortunately it does still happen from time to time. One major issues surrounding hospital mistakes and doctor errors is the low level of reporting and the lack of communication about mistakes that were made. Some speculate that this is for fear of liability in a civil suit, but studies have suggested that more open reporting standards actually decrease the overall level of errors that result in an injury or death.

At the present, medical mistakes lead to about 440,000 deaths every year in the United States, making preventable hospital errors the third leading cause of death, just behind heart disease and cancer.

Hospitals are constantly looking for ways to stop the fatalities, and a new study out recently looked at a sensitive issue around reporting – whether colleagues should report errors they observe. The social norm in hospitals has been not to report mistakes made by colleagues but that could be changing.

New guidelines issued recently through the New England Journal of Medicine instruct doctors and other hospital staff to address errors more directly and to bring up problems that they see that could cause injuries, rather than staying silent. These suggested changes accompany a slew of state laws that allow doctors to apologize for errors or injuries without admitting to fault in a way that could bring on medical malpractice liability.

Of course, when negligence has occurred the victims have a right to seek answers, whether through a lawsuit or through a mediated meeting with the doctor that made the mistake.

Source: NBC News, "When docs make mistakes, should colleagues tell? Yes, report says," JoNel Aleccia, Oct. 30, 2013

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Alan D. Bell
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