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Hospital Reactions To Scathing Medical Error Report

As we reported a couple of months ago, a recent Johns Hopkins study reported that if medical errors were considered a disease, they would be the third leading cause of death in the United States. Some doctors have said that the number are over-representative; however, researchers continue to say that medical errors are underreported. Whatever the actual number, there is no dispute that medical mistakes are often avoidable. However, what are doctors and hospitals doing in response to the report?

Like many doctors, Dr. Joe Cofer, is not happy about the report. Dr. Cofer is the Chief Quality Officer at Erlanger Hospital, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He disputes the findings of the report and believes the actual number of death from medical error is much lower.

“I think that paper was in many regards sensational,” said Cofer. “He made it sensational to make a point, to wake everybody up.” Cofer does agree that adverse events occur more often than they should.

According to the study, Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US, one of the problems with assessing the extent of medical error is that it is not listed as an option for the cause of death on death certificates. The authors have said that better reporting is needed to determine just how many medical errors result in death.

Dr. Cofer claims the healthcare industry is getting better as they continue to try and develop workable systems to prevent medical errors. However, “because medicine is a human endeavor, we’ll never get it perfect,” he says.

While medicine is primarily a human endeavor, it comes complete with a very human resistance to change. Checklists similar to what pilots go through before taking flight have been shown to reduce medical errors. However, doctors and surgeons continue to resist safety procedures and checklists. As a result, doctors also often resist taking the blame when they make a mistake.

National guidelines recommend doctors make a full disclosure to patients when something goes wrong during surgery. A new survey suggests surgeons could be doing more to inform patients when surgical problems arise. The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that only about half of surgeons discussed whether or not the error was preventable.

Doctors continue to resist full-disclosure after an adverse event, whether it was the doctor’s mistake or not. Dr. Albert Wu, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says the industry traditionally had a “wall of silence.” “Secrecy was pretty much the rule back when I started looking at this in the eighties,” says Wu. “Since then, there has really been a sea change and people acknowledge it.”

“The golden rule is that people expect to be told when something goes wrong,” says Wu. “In almost all cases the patient benefits from accepting that something, some sort of injury or harm, has been done. And they expect an apology and expect you to be honest with them.”

If you or a loved one has been injured due to a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward. Please do not hesitate to contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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