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How doctors behave when they observe medical errors

Chicago residents may be concerned about the findings contained in a report released by the New England Journal of Medicine in October. The study looked into how medical professionals behave when they observe a colleague making mistakes, and the conclusion drawn is that these errors often go unreported. It is already known that hospital and doctor mistakes are a leading cause of death in the United States, and they fuel an increasing number of medical malpractice cases.

The report cites a variety of reasons for why physicians fail to take action when mistakes are made. Sometimes, the doctors are worried about reprisals from colleagues. There is also a great deal of camaraderie in the medical field, and many doctors are hesitant to take action when they fear that it will reflect badly on their team. Doctors also worry about being dragged into protracted medical malpractice lawsuits.

Another factor is the reciprocal nature of the medical profession. Doctors rely heavily on each other for referrals, and a doctor could pay a high financial price if he or she develops a reputation as a whistle-blower. The report calls for hospitals to take a proactive approach to the problem. It recommends that a mistake should not be looked upon as an embarrassment to be downplayed, but rather as a valuable lesson that could improve the future treatment of patients.

Patients have legal remedies available to them when doctors or hospitals make mistakes, but the reluctance of physicians to report errors sometimes makes them difficult to obtain. An attorney experienced in medical malpractice cases may be able to pursue a financial award for victims of doctor mistakes. This could compensate them for their pain and suffering, and it may help to hold negligent medical professionals responsible for their actions.

Source: Pacific Standard, "Why Doctors Stay Silent About Mistakes Their Colleagues Make", Marshall Allen, November 25, 2013

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Q: What is medical malpractice?

A: Medical malpractice is negligence committed by a professional health care provider, such as a doctor, nurse, dentist, technician, hospital worker or hospital, whose treatment of a patient departs from a standard of care met by those with similar training and experience, resulting in harm to a patient...

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