Should doctors disclose medical errors? Yes.

Some medical professionals hold the philosophy that if a patient fully recovers, doctors should not admit to mistakes that might otherwise go undetected. One concern is that a patient may look at an admission of error as a tool for a medical malpractice case. However, sources suggest that apologies can go a long way, and the medical profession may be changing its outlook.

In the past, medical professionals were not taught in medical school how to disclose mistakes. Errors were seen as spontaneous, incidental issues, which could be used as a teaching experience among residents. In fact, students were encouraged not to discuss such errors with patients unless it was a must. Moreover, professionals were previously taught to be purposefully vague with responses when the families of patients had questions. This would help diffuse intense situations and prevent the chance of a legal action.

Today's view on medical errors

While that may have been the case, the philosophy on medical mistakes is evolving. In fact, error disclosures are now a part of many hospitals' polices. This is because scholars are beginning to realize that medical errors often indicate systemic issues. Most of the time, they are not actually minor lapses.

Moreover, research finds that the disclosure actually creates a better doctor-patient relationship. In a 2006 study, the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that disclosure after a medical mistake could actually reduce the likelihood of the patient changing doctors. The practices increase patient satisfaction and allow individuals to trust their doctors. In other words, patients are more likely to have confidence in those medical professionals who are honest and candid with them. If a physician holds something back, this could create anger and concerns.

In line with recent changes, more and more hospitals are developing policies to create a better disclosure philosophy. In 2006, a group representing Harvard-affiliated hospitals established that error disclosure policies in medical facilities should support the following practices:

  • In such cases involving medical error, the provider should take responsibility.
  • The provider should apologize after a mistake.
  • The caregiver should discuss preventative measures for the future with the patient or family.

With more facilities following these practices, it will be interesting to see how hospitals' polices transform over the next few years.

If you believe that your physician or medical professional was negligent in providing care, you may benefit from speaking with a qualified medical malpractice attorney in your area. Doctors are held to high standard of care, and if they do not meet this threshold, they could be held liable to injured patients.