15 August 2006

Don't Tell The Patients

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."

7 reactions:

ipanema said...

What an apt title!

I didn't read the abstract, the results clear and sufficient enough. I don't have allergy to surveys. Posting health news that carries surveys from reputable organizations to big pharmas, I know which one worked and which failed. I still refer to them till now. Quite educational though. There are some I can relate, some I can't. Whereas others, may have different experiences, I find them enlightening.

Personally, I would still prefer my doctor to rectify any error ASAP. If there's still something that can be done, then by all means he/she should do it. As what Dr. Emer mentioned, some won't really own up to their mistakes. Understable but unforgivable. Now, I don't like this kind of doctor. They have their reasons anyway, I, too, have mine. So the more honest we are with each other, the better.

Dr. Emer said...

Honesty is the best policy, Ipanema. ;)

ipanema said...

Talaga doc, amen to that. :) At least my doctor will know what he's going to do with me. If I withold information may be because it's very personal, then this could affect his treatment programme (i don't know the word) and eventually my recovery.

zelle said...

Hi Doc! i stumbled into your blog when i was searching the current population of diabetics and pre-diabetics in the country. Im glad to know that there are Filipino MDs like you who write our health in general...this site is very informative.

I am working in an ad agency and i have a client that is interested in the nutritional beverage market for diabetics. My mom is also a diabetic (i guess that make me at risk too)Can you suggest any site or reading materials and assn that i tap to further know the world of Filipino diabetics? I am particularly interested in the socio-economic class breakdown of the population of the diabetics.

hope you can help. thanks.

Dr. Emer said...

Thanks for the compliment, but that is an off-topic request, Zelle. Please write me an email.

Jules said...

hehehe... the ironic thing is this: the lower the economic status of a patient, the more mollified they are when the doctor admits a mistake. they sympathize with your humanity. just as long you give them options to work with. i guess patients understand that mistakes can happen, but they expect in turn alternative options they can understand.

well, unlike those hoity-toity rich asses who goes to the ER because they had a scraped knee from a badminton tourney, they'll shout at you and give you the cold shoulder if you admit you made a mistake. they'll say, "i don't want to talk to you. i want another doctor." I want to tell them, "would you like an enema, ma'am?"

Emer said...

Please don't be too rough on them, Jules. *LOL*