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Fear of Medical Malpractice suits: Does it affect the reporting of Errors?

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Despite the fact that their patients' lives are in their hands, not all doctors would tell patients about every error they made.

In fact, a surprising number might not tell their patients at all, especially if they thought the patient would not notice the mistake. However, whether or not a fear of medical malpractice suits has any influence over the decision to reveal an error remains unclear.

In a study released in the Archives of Internal Medicine (August, 2006) only 65% of respondents said they would definitely disclose an error. This leaves 35% who would probably disclose the error, disclose the error only if the patient asked, or definitely not disclose the error.

Although many people may think that threat of medical malpractice suits would be the most important factor in whether or not errors were disclosed, most doctors in this survey said that malpractice suits did not play a part in their support of disclosure. In fact, 66% of doctors surveyed felt that mentioning the error would make a medical malpractice suit less likely.

However, this seems to contradict another study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine (2006) that found that fears and anxieties (including a fear of medical malpractice suits) were a factor in whether or not doctors reported medical errors.

Even if they did claim to support disclosure, doctors would be careful about how to tell patients about the mistake. 56% of participants in the study chose statements that would mention the adverse event but not the error.

Furthermore, 19% would not say specifically what caused the error and 63% would not discuss how to prevent future errors. A gap also existed between medical and surgical specialists in their willingness to mention medical errors. 58% of medical specialists would mention the error, whereas only 19% of surgical specialists would do the same.

Authors of the study recommended that the culture of medicine be more thoroughly studied in order to determine what factors discourage doctors from reporting medical errors. They also recommend standards for disclosure of errors in order to encourage doctors to come forward when errors have occurred.

Patients can also play a part in preventing medical errors from occurring. Simple steps such as asking questions about their medical treatment, asking whether or not hands have been washed and marking incision sites can cut down on the number of mistakes that are made. Patients can also ask their doctors if they think an error has been made, and, if they feel it is necessary, get a second opinion from another doctor.


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If you or a loved one have suffered due to medical errors by your physician, please submit a [Medical Malpractice] complaint to a lawyer for a free case review.


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