Can Telling the Truth Protect Patients from Medical Mistakes?
When seeking treatment for an injury or illness, patients should be able to trust their doctors. However, even the slightest medical error can result in serious complications that can put patients at risk.
Here's a challenge that exists in many hospitals: maintaining transparency of medical records and accurately reporting errors.
Pennsylvania code (§ 5100.33.) allows patients physical access to their medical records; however, the law doesn't guarantee that patients can possess copies of their medical records. Despite the law, obtaining these records can be challenging and costly. When medical mistakes occur, some doctors and hospitals will attempt to cover up medical record errors.
Chapter 35, "Error Reporting and Disclosure" in Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses (Zane Robinson Wolf; Ronda G. Hughes) explains that medical professionals may become embarrassed by their errors and place the blame elsewhere. This ill-advised practice not only places doctors and hospitals in a position to be found negligent, but more importantly puts the health and lives of patients in jeopardy.
Transparency in hospitals is crucial, as it can prevent further errors from occurring.
Why transparency is crucial for patient safety
According to an article in The Legal Intelligencer, disclosing the truth to patients regarding their medical care would be beneficial to their safety and health. This level of transparency could create a climate of accountability among medical professionals—thus preventing medical errors from occurring in the future.
Common medical errors include:
- Medication errors: Inaccurate prescriptions and doses affect roughly 1.5 million Americans each year, according to the Institute of Medicine.
- Excessive blood transfusions: While red blood cell transfusions are common medical procedures, a 2011 study suggests that 60 percent are "inappropriate."
- Hospital-acquired infections: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 25 patients contracts infection while being treated in hospitals.
- Central line infections: Tubes of medicine injected into patients' veins can cause bacteria to enter the blood stream, resulting in serious infections.
The Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority (PA-PSRS) mandates that hospitals and doctors are required to notify patients, or their families, of "serious events" that take place. However, some hospitals may fail to mention serious events when sending notifications to patients. The PA-PSRS receives roughly one-third of a million reports involving serious events per year. Out of those reports, approximately 1,400 medical malpractice claims are filed yearly.
Medical malpractice lawsuits explained
The common assumption that medical errors are an avenue for medical malpractice claims is not supported by the data. Roughly 1 to 3 percent of all medical errors result in medical malpractice lawsuits. According to Positive Physicians, patients are often reluctant to file medical malpractice claims if they feel they have "good rapport" with their doctors. This means that if a doctor shows support for the patient and answers questions thoroughly, this may discourage a lawsuit. However, if patients don't feel respected by their doctors, they are more likely to file a lawsuit - and rightly so, as there is some connection between a doctor's level of respect for the patient and the quality of treatment the patient receives.
It is important that patients know the safety records of hospitals before being treated. This can be accomplished when hospitals and doctors practice transparency in order to build trust with patients. Telling patients the truth is not likely to result in an increase in malpractice lawsuits. It will, however, contribute to better care and better patient outcomes.
If you have suffered an injury or illness caused by a medical error, it's crucial that you speak to an experienced Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorney who can investigate. The attorneys at Villari, Brandes & Giannone, P.C. are dedicated to helping medical malpractice victims seek the justice they deserve.