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Would your doctor admit to a medical mistake?

If your doctor made a medical error in treatment, how would you know? In some situations, you might not know unless your doctor or medical provider told you about the mistake. But many doctors do not disclose medical mistakes and other situations. One doctor, in a recent opinion piece in a nationally recognized newspaper, says that should change.

The doctor says that when he joined a private medical practice, medical malpractice attorneys for the hospital told him not to say they had made mistakes. Hospital risk managers told him to contact them if they made a mistake. There was little incentive for doctors to apologize to patients.

Times are now changing. Medical schools are providing instruction in disclosing errors. Hospitals are creating policies for error disclosures. More than 30 states have enacted apology laws that prevent parts of doctor conversations from being used in medical malpractice suits. A federal healthcare research agency is researching the best approach for doctors to approach errors.

Some studies have called into question doctors' fears that admitting mistakes will lead to lawsuits and negative impacts. One 2006 study found that full disclosure of medical errors reduced the chances that a patient would switch doctors and actually improved patient satisfaction.

Better disclosure of medical errors would certainly be beneficial for patients, but patients would benefit even better from preventing errors in the first place. Errors are rampant in the medical field. For example, one in seven Medicare hospital patients show an adverse event during their hospital stay, such as hospital-acquired infections or medication mistakes. About 44 percent of those adverse events could be prevented, a 2010 report shows.

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

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