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Failure To Report Surgical Errors Harms Patients

The Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, recently published a study of Veterans Affairs surgeons with the intent of tracking and improving communication between surgeons and patients.  

The issue at hand was the question of how well surgeons inform patients after something goes wrong with a procedure. The results show steps in the right direction for medical clarity, but much work remains to be done. 

A Rising Standard

The study itself had limits, such as a small sample size. About 60 surgeons from three VA hospitals participated, which impacts the ability to make direct claims about national trends. The data does look promising, however, and seems to indicate that the norms are shifting. Dr. Albert Wu, a professor of health policy & management, medicine, and surgery at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CBS News that he sees in the data some significant improvements since he first began researching this subject in the eighties. 

“I think we now widely accept that patients should be told when things go wrong, when there are unexpected events, when things go other than planned. It's their right to know about it,” Wu stated. Johns Hopkins, where Wu works, issued one of the first policies aimed at error disclosure. This, however, did not come about until 2000. 

Confidence and Confidentiality

Why does this field struggle with transparency? Wu explained that this is partly due to the demands of the job itself. In order to make fast, steady, and important decisions and take action in the midst of highly stressful situation, surgeons need to maintain a certain level of confidence. Unfortunately, minor and preventable accidents undercut that confidence and can chip away at a surgeon’s ability to do their job if they dwell on them too much. 

We understand the need for surgeons to be able to do their jobs and want them to do the best work they can. There is no benefit to patients if surgeons are afraid to make the decisions they need to make in the heat of the moment. However, when mistakes happen, patients have a right to be informed. Our approach to medical malpractice must be one that holds doctors accountable for their actions and their disclosure to patients, while recognizing the difference between preventable mistakes and unavoidable complications.  

If you believe you may have suffered from medical malpractice, our attorneys can help you understand your case and get the justice you deserve. Contact us today for more information.

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