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How honest are surgeons about their errors?

When surgeons make an error or something goes wrong during surgery, are they required to tell the patient and family? They may not be.

There are eight recommended disclosure practices when an adverse surgical event occurs. However, a recent survey of 60 surgeons at Veterans Affairs hospitals found that the majority of them only followed some of the practices. Most said they:

-- Disclose the error within one day-- Explain why it happened-- Express regret and show concern for the patient's well-being-- Take steps to deal with any resulting problems

One professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who is also a surgeon. said that even though it's becoming more common for physicians to disclose to patients when things go wrong, it's still difficult for many doctors to discuss their mistakes. Adverse events "are disappointing, upsetting and frightening" to physicians.

He says that this is in part because surgeons need to have a considerable amount of confidence to do their job. Mistakes in the operating room can lessen that confidence. Errors that are preventable can be embarrassing as well. However, he says that "if you're poking people with sharp objects, there are going to beā€¦slips."

Hospitals vary in their regulations about what type of adverse events need to be disclosed to patients. Johns Hopkins' medical students actually can take classes in how to discuss medical errors with patients.

Doctors can suffer consequences for failing to disclose an error. On the other hand, they can also lose their jobs for making a mistake, particularly if they have a pattern of errors. They may be afraid that admitting an error and, further, apologizing for it, may bring on a malpractice suit.

It's always best for the patient if they are made aware of anything that went wrong during an operation, even if no harm resulted. Most patients appreciate the honesty. Even more, they appreciate an apology, although that may be more difficult to get. Some studies indicate that patients who receive an apology from their doctor are less likely to sue than those who don't.

Obviously, the decision to take legal action depends on a number of factors, such as the severity of the harm and whether it was caused by negligence. Experienced Mississippi malpractice attorneys can help you determine whether you have grounds for a lawsuit and offer guidance on whether you should pursue it.

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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