Fear Of Trouble, Embarrassment Leads To Underreporting Medical Errors

A study has revealed that 90 percent of medical providers have failed to report errors or near-misses, citing concerns about liability and embarrassment.

The anonymous survey of doctors, nurses and other medical providers at John Hopkins, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Systems in New York, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Miami has revealed that doctors, nurses and other providers do not self-report errors or near misses. The underreporting stems from a desire not to cause trouble or embarrassment.

Dr. Kendra Harris, who conducted the study, issued a press release stating that "[r]eporting is not an end in itself. It helps identify potential hazards, and each member of the health care team brings a perspective that can help make patients safer." The majority of respondents recognized that they had a duty to report medical errors, yet this responsibility was overcome by self-interest.

Doctors Do Not Fully Disclose To Patients

The same embarrassment and fear of liability not only leads to underreporting errors to online reporting systems, it also leads to some doctors to tell "white lies" to patients or withhold information from them. A Health Affairs survey found that two-fifths of respondents did not disclose their financial relationships with drug and device companies to patients. The majority of respondents admitted to providing a sunnier outlook in their patient diagnoses than was actually warranted, and 10 percent actually said something that wasn't true to their patients.

Again, the cause seems to be a fear of liability and embarrassment. Dr. Otis Webb Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, noted in an article published by CNN that doctors are people, and people have a tendency to cover up errors. In addition, physicians may be unwilling to admit a lack of control over a patient's outcome, leading the doctor to distort or withhold information.

If you believe you have been harmed by negligent medical care, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your legal rights and the potential for compensation.