A lack of transparency in medical errors

Everyone makes mistakes. Doctors can make mistakes, after all, they are just human beings. But being honest about them, giving a sincere apology, and having a plan to ensure that they are not repeated in the future maybe an appropriate approach to take when medical errors do occur.

When my grandfather went to see a doctor because of prolonged fatigue, the attending physician failed to recognize the signs of silent heart attack on the ECG and sent my grandfather home with some (wrong) medications. Few months later, my grandfather was brought into the ICU and died from heart failure in a couple of days after. I, along with others, firmly believe that my grandfather would have lived longer if his abnormal heart condition was recognized earlier and correct medications were prescribed. Losing my grandfather is my greatest loss to date, and it would have made me and my family feel a lot better if the doctor accepted his mistake, apologized, and devised a plan to prevent its re-occurrence. But he didn’t.

Maybe the health care system is to blame for the prevalence of medical errors and a lack of transparency in medical errors. First, there is a fear of lawsuits against clinicians, which would cause clinicians to risk losing money, status, dignity, and sometimes, even their jobs. Second, increased bureaucratic power in organizations minimize freedoms of clinicians. Sometimes clinicians can become too preoccupied with stringently following rules and regulations of the agency that they may overlook what is in front of them – the patients themselves.  Hence, more time may be spent to meet technical standards of the firms such that the opportunities to understand patient experience may be missed. Third, high workload may be causing time constraints, thus preventing doctors from spending more time with their patients and their families. Not only can this hinder doctor-patient relationship, but it can also negatively contribute to treatment outcomes, as well as misdiagnosis. For example, educating  patients on negative consequences of treatment nonadherence may improve treatment adherence. Further, due to limited resources (e.g., hospital beds), the doctors maybe put under pressure to discharge patients who otherwise require more attention and should  not be discharged. Lastly, overreliance on patient data than patient experience could contribute to prevalence of medical errors.

While there are many factors that could contribute to medical errors and a lack of transparency in medical errors, clinicians must not lose sight of their role as healthcare professionals, where taking good care of patients and doing no harm are top priorities. Advocating against the issue of the lack of transparency in medical errors may facilitate improved patient care, patient safety, and patient experience. Maybe what we need is the willingness of healthcare professionals to talk about it to increase awareness of the problem. Not only will it improve awareness, but it will also help facilitate collaborative learning, where a mistake made by one clinician would not repeated by other clinicians. Dr. Goldman gave an insightful speech on this topic at TED Talk.

References: Image from Google Images.

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