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Why Do Surgeons Remain Silent After A Medical Mistake?

Individuals in all types of professions can make a mistake. When a mistake is made, the right thing to do is acknowledge the error, and try to fix it. When a surgeon makes a mistake, the results can be devastating. However, the problem can be made even worse if the surgeon does not admit they made a mistake, or even worse, tries to cover it up. Unfortunately, remaining silent after a medical mistake is all too common in the healthcare industry.

According to a survey by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), only about half of surgeons surveyed said they apologized, or discussed whether a medical error was preventable. This has an obvious effect on patients and their families. Many patients report feeling left in the dark after a medical mistake. They cannot get a straight answer from the doctors, nurses, or hospital officials. However, the lack of candor may be having an impact on the surgeons as well.

Researchers from the Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System found that the level of disclosure of medical errors affected surgeons responsible for the mistakes. They found that the surgeons who were less likely to talk about the mistakes were more likely to be negatively affected by the medical error. The results were more pronounced when the errors were categorized as “very serious” or “extremely serious.”

Guidelines for surgeons recommend full disclosure after an adverse event. Full disclosure is shown to benefit patients and families. It is also the right thing to do. However, many hospitals, physicians, and surgeons still resist disclosure and transparency, to the detriment of patients and those in the medical industry.

Of the 67 surgeons surveyed, only 55% apologized to patients after an adverse event. 45% never discussed whether the mistake was preventable, and 67% never talked about how the error could have been prevented. Those doctors who never admitted the preventable error were more likely to be negatively affected by the event, feeling anxiety about the patient’s outcome.

According to the authors of the report, there has been little progress in assessing a physician’s’ experience when disclosing adverse events. The report reads, “By emphasizing the potential for surgeons being negatively affected after adverse events and disclosures, and recognizing the association between attitudes, perceived seriousness of events, surgeons’ experiences with disclosures, and training on how to include specific elements of disclosure in these difficult conversations, future quality improvement efforts may be able to help sustain the implementation of open disclosure programs nationwide while also ensuring a healthy surgeon workforce.”

If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a medical mistake, or you are unsure whether medical negligence may be involved, Gilman & Bedigian team is ready to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a medical malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of medical malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensated, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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