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Survey of Surgeons Suggests Reluctance to Discuss Errors with Patients

"I think there was a wall of silence, a code of silence. Secrecy was pretty much the rule..."

That is how a leading expert on medical disclosure recently described how doctors have historically approached telling patients about medical errors -- essentially to keep the error a secret.

While hospitals and doctors have made positive strides toward transparency in the last 30 years, a new study suggests that surgeons may be especially reluctant to admit that a surgical error was preventable.

A survey of more than 60 surgeons at three different Veterans Affairs hospitals found that most of the surgeons had followed these five medical disclosure practices:

  • Disclose the medical error within 24 hours after the surgery.
  • Explain to the patient or family of the patient why the surgical error occurred.
  • Show concern for the well-being of the patient.
  • Express regret that the error occurred.
  • Take steps to treat any problems resulting from the error.

However, when it came to apologizing for the mistake or discussing whether or not the error could have been prevented, only 55 percent of the surgeons said they had taken those steps.

As a patient, you have a right to know when something goes wrong in the operating room.

Medical errors are common. We discussed this unfortunate reality in one of our recent posts, "Unsettling Report: Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S."

Given the frequency of medical mistakes, it stands to reason that medical professionals need the communication skills to take responsibility for and disclose medical errors.

If your doctor is failing to give you the satisfactory answers you deserve, seek help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer with experience in this complex area of law can listen to your concerns and explain your options.

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