Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Doctor claims that physicians should proactively disclose errors

Pittsburgh medical patients may soon start hearing their doctors admit to medical errors. The standard practice for many doctors has historically been to wait until a patient discovers an error before engaging in conversation. Some hospitals, medical schools and other health care institutions are now proposing that doctors should proactively admit errors before they're discovered by the patient.

In a recent article, one doctor recounted how he had mistakenly prescribed an antibiotic to a patient whose chart indicated an allergy to the medicine. Fortunately, the prescription didn't harm the patient, but the doctor still admitted his mistake. He said that went against standard practice. He said that the traditional approach would have been to wait for the patient to discover the error, address the patient's concern with vague, non-committal responses and let the matter be worked out by medical malpractice attorneys.

The doctor claims that this method for addressing errors begins in medical school, where errors are treated as learning moments to be discussed among doctors, but never with patients. Some schools are changing this approach. The University of Washington has found that many errors are caused by a group, rather than an individual. The school now teaches doctors, nurses, pharmacists and more to address errors by disclosing them to actors posing as patients. Studies have found that proactively addressing errors can create a more mutually beneficial doctor-patient relationship. A 2006 study in the Journal of General Medicine found that error disclosure reduces the likelihood that a patient will change doctors and increases the patient's trust in the physician.

Some errors are more serious than others and may cause chronic issues, disability and death. In those cases, the patient may be able to file a claim against the health care provider for compensation. Full disclosure on the part of physicians may help victims of medical errors resolve claims faster and obtain the financial help that they need to recover from their injuries. An experienced medical malpractice attorney could help a victim pursue a claim for injuries stemming from a medical error.

Source: The Washington Post, "Medical errors are hard for doctors to admit, but it’s wise to apologize to patients", Manoj Jain, June 27, 2013

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