Medical malpractice: to tell or not to tell?

Most of us grow up with the idea that tattling on others is not a good thing to do. As adults, though, we know that sometimes it is better to speak up and let others know when someone is not doing the right thing.

Every year, it is estimated that up to 440,000 people lose their lives in U.S. hospitals, Chicago-area facilities included, because of acts of medical negligence. This means negligence is the third leading cause of death in this country, just behind heart disease and cancer.

It turns out, however, that medical negligence — whether it involves errors in medication, surgical procedures or diagnoses — is often avoidable or can be corrected when someone who sees it says something.

Unfortunately, this rarely happens because professional courtesy between colleagues dictates that everyone observe something akin to a code of silence; most medical practitioners tend to look the other way without saying anything.

New medical guidelines published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine aim to change that. The new regulations require that colleagues talk directly, but respectfully, to someone who has made a mistake. This not only should address mistakes, but also create support for doctors who have made mistakes, while still preserving patients’ best interests.

Whether the new guidelines will reduce medically related deaths and injuries is not yet known. Being hopeful is good, but the profession will have to wait to see the effects of these guidelines. The current alarming rates of mistakes do not bode well for patients. Fortunately, patients have legal options they can turn to when they become the victims of medical negligence.

In the event that someone has suffered from medical malpractice, he or she may be able to hold a medical practitioner legally responsible and have a good chance of providing patients with much-needed compensation for physical, emotional and medical needs and other expenses.

Source: NBC News, “When Docs Make Mistakes, Should Colleagues Tell?, Yes, Report Says,” JoNel Aleccia, Oct. 30, 2013