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Medical mistake disclosure subject of study

On behalf of Harry Dorian

Medical errors themselves are a problem but so too is the fact that providers do not proactively disclose mistakes when they happen.

Most people in Pennsylvania know that medical mistakes can and do happen in part because doctors, nurses and other professionals are human. While that can be an unnerving reality for people what can sometimes feel like it makes a situation worse is how such situations are handled.

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took a look at how well providers rank when it comes to overall transparency with their patients in the wake of a mistake being made.

The history of disclosing medical mistakes

The Washington Post points out that the fact that people are even talking about doctors voluntarily disclosing errors today is progress. It really has been only in the last decade or so that this topic has come to the forefront of conversations. Finally it is being recognized as an important component in a healthy relationship between a provider and a patient.

Even two decades ago such a thought would never have really occurred. In fact, in medical schools around the country there was an active effort to have physicians keep such information from their patients. They were even told to be vague and non-committal if directly asked by a patient about a potential mistake.

Study reviews disclosure methods

At the University of Pennsylvania, a study reviewed the different approaches to disclosing medial errors utilized by different health systems. It was found that many rely on a model that involves first disclosure of an error followed by an apology and an offer to remedy the situation.

While this is certainly better than offering no disclosure at all, it focuses primarily on the financial and legal ramifications of a medical mistake. What is missing from this approach is the inclusion of the psychosocial elements that accompany a medical error.

Changes proposed

Making a change to how providers admit mistakes amounts essentially to a paradigm shift or even a cultural change. It involves taking guilt, shame and reputation damage out of the equation so that physicians feel safe in disclosing errors. Recommendations include the use of role playing when teaching medical school students and already licensed physicians how to actually tell a patient about a problem.

Legislation may help

Currently the majority of states legally bar providers’ error admissions from being offered in a lawsuit as proof of liability. The goal with these types of laws is to encourage more voluntary disclosure.

While the medical community continues to figure out how to best handle errors, patients in Pennsylvania who believe they may have experienced such a mistake should reach out to a lawyer for help. This will give them a different way to assess their situation and their potential options.