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Surgical errors: Will your doctor tell you about them?

Would a surgeon inform you if something went wrong when you were in surgery? You might think he or she would, but when protecting their own licenses can be a priority, you may never be told that anything went wrong at all. Of course, national guidelines state that doctors and hospitals should disclose the errors or what went wrong to the patient and the patient's family.

A survey of surgeons in 12 specialties showed that most followed some of the national guidelines, but many didn't go as far as the guidelines would have suggested. For instance, most agreed that they explained to the patient and family what happened, disclosed the error within 24 hours, expressed regret, showed concern for the patient and took steps to treat any resulting problems. However, only 55 percent talked to families about whether or not the error was preventable or apologized.

Johns Hopkins was one of the first hospitals to create a disclosure policy. With this kind of policy, health care workers who admit to errors or who report errors won't be penalized for reporting it. Today, Hopkins requires all medical students in their second year to take a 90 minute class on how they should report and disclose an adverse event. They take time to practice this, with help from instructional videos.

Not all hospitals work this way, with others firing staff members who make serious or fatal mistakes. The impact on a medical professional can vary, which may explain why some are less eager to admit their mistakes. If you and your family aren't told about an error, you may be in a position to file a lawsuit.

Source: CBS News, "Would a surgeon tell you if something went wrong during your operation?," Mary Brophy Marcus, July 20, 2016

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