DOCTORS are less likely to reveal major medical mishaps if the error is not obvious to the patient, new research has found. A study of almost 2700 American and Canadian doctors has found that 65 per cent would definitely disclose a serious mistake made during treatment.
But the medics varied widely in when and how they told patients an error had occurred. A doctor confronted with a obvious error was far more likely to impart the news to their patient than one faced with a less apparent mistake.
[SOURCE: The Australian, 15 Aug 2006 ]
You can read the abstract of the study published in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine here, and the results are:
- 64 percent of the doctors agreed that (medical) errors are a serious problem;
- 50 percent disagreed that errors are usually caused by system failures
- 98 percent endorsed disclosing serious errors to patients;
- 78 percent supported disclosing minor errors;
- 74 percent thought disclosing a serious error would be very difficult;
- 58 percent had disclosed a serious error to a patient;
- 85 percent were satisfied with the disclosure;
- 66 percent agreed that disclosing a serious error reduces malpractice risk
I think this is human nature, and this same behavior is not limited to doctors alone. Who would want to voluntarily expose one's error? There's always that fear of shame, and possible punishment (read: malpractice suits). As they say, "if you can get away with it, then lucky you!"
Don't get me wrong, though. I am not supporting the practice of withholding important information especially if this concerns a harmful medical error and the patient's overall welfare, but humans are simply not too proud of erring. No one is, I think. A test of one's maturity is if one is able to admit his mistake, apologize for it, and make amends afterwards.
I agree with the conclusion of the authors: "The medical profession should consider whether the culture of medicine itself represents a more important barrier than the malpractice environment to the disclosure of harmful medical errors to patients."