Society of Bioethics and Medicine
Written by Aisha Abid
Edited by Faith Singh
Do physicians have any ethical responsibility to inform patients regarding medical errors? Medical errors can occur inadvertently and may or may not affect the patient depending on a variety of conditions. A mistake might cause a misdiagnosis or a negative adverse effect in the patient's condition. These mistakes can occur for various reasons such as, the pressure to check a large number of patients in a short amount of time, a lack of sleep, or an inadequate patient history. Even if it means jeopardizing the patient's confidence in the medical system or the medical professional, these concerns must be addressed with the patient.
Physicians are also morally expected to be straightforward with any errors that may arise with their treatment, just as patients must be forthright and honest with their providers regarding their health history. Although it is not the intention of a physician to do harm to their patients, a mistake might result in detrimental negative effects for the patient's care, which must be reported and taken care of accordingly. All patients should be handled with integrity, care, and consideration for his or her best interests.
Even minor medical errors should be acknowledged to patients, and any information that is withheld should be morally justified by an institutional ethics committee and other doctors. The patient's trust and relationships with the medical practitioner, as well as the medical system, may be jeopardized if medical errors are disclosed. Patients, on the other hand, are entitled to recognition and explanations for errors that occur to them.
Aside from the patient losing confidence in the system, the physician can potentially face a malpractice suit and be held liable for negligence. Although many errors are not caused by negligence, suppressing information about medical blunders may be more difficult to explain. When a physician is open about their faults, it is more probable that the patient will not pursue legal action because of the physician's honesty. However, some patients may believe that the truth has been hidden from them, prompting them to file malpractice lawsuits. Jurors are more inclined to disfavor a physician who appears to be dishonest and conceals information about the patient's care.
When a physician witnesses another health care practitioner making a mistake, he or she may feel uncomfortable. The physician must first establish with the at-fault physician that a mistake has occurred. The physician who witnessed this encounter must be bound by ethics to report and expose the truth to the patient, or to encourage the other physician to do so. The health-care system is designed to keep people informed about all treatments affecting their health. Unfortunately, errors are unavoidable in the health-care system because humans are imperfect, but physicians must be ethically bound to be honest when they make a mistake and to always have their patients' best interests at heart, not just their own.
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