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Surgeons often fail to apologize for medical errors


When medical errors occur in Oregon hospitals, guidelines recommend that doctors disclose all of the complications and any mistakes that were made to the patient and the patient’s family. However, a survey found that surgeons in 12 different specialty areas often did not follow all of these guidelines.

The survey, which was published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, found that the majority of the participants only followed five out of the eight disclosure practices outlined by the guidelines. These practices included disclosing the error within 24 hours after the procedure, explaining what went wrong, showing concern for the patient, expressing regret and treating any medical complications that resulted from the error. However, only slightly more than half of the participants said that they had apologized and disclosed whether or not the error was preventable.

According to a leading expert on medical disclosure, part of the problem is that many surgeons have to believe that they can fix anything or do the impossible. If they cause a medical error, the disclosure to the patient can cause damage to the surgeon’s self-esteem and confidence. Further, some staff can still actually lose their job if they report an error that was caused by their actions. Surgical and other medical errors can cause serious complications that could impact a patient’s health. If a surgeon operates on the wrong body part, nicks internal organs, causes nerve damage during the procedure or does not disclose certain risks, the patient could have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the health care professional or facility. An attorney who has experience in these matters can assess a case to see whether to go forward.