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Failure to disclose doctor error to DC patients could be harmful

A recent survey about medical error showed some upsetting results. When the time came to inform patients of significant information about a medical or doctor error, only a small portion of primary care physicians said they would fully disclose the error, even when it was potentially harmful. This revelation could have serious consequences for medical patients in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nearly 300 primary care physicians were included in the recent study, which involved medical error in the evaluation of two hypothetical cancer diagnoses. Most of the doctors surveyed indicated that they would offer partial – not full – disclosure of the error. And, of the available choices, participants also answered that they would offer "limited" or "no" apology, explanation or information about the cause of the error.

For nearly the past ten years, the standard for U.S. physicians has included a full disclosure to patients of harmful errors, with a complete explanation, a declaration of regret, an acceptance of responsibility and a pledge to prevent repetitions of such errors or lapses in the future. Researchers expressed surprise at the survey's outcomes, which they said fell short of both national guidelines and patient expectations. They had anticipated that full disclosure would be more frequent than survey results suggested.

The fact that, even when failing to disclose the medical errors carried potentially harmful consequences, doctors would still provide only partial disclosure carries some troubling connotations. Doctor error that results in harm to a patient could be a case of medical malpractice, especially if the physicians involved knew about the mistake. If any Washington, D.C. patients suspect they may have been the victim of a negligent physician and suffered harmful effects as a result, they may want to consider contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney who could advise them of their legal rights.

Source: knowridge.com, "Many primary care doctors are reluctant to talk about medical errors", Nov. 30, 2016

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