Update on Disclosing Medical Errors

In a February 2017 WAVE, I asked the question whether your facility had been stress tested (see link to this article below).  At one of my facilities, I had become aware of a serious medication error and activated a process with some of my colleagues and the administration on how to best manage the consequences of this error.  This patient and family appreciated the timely disclosure and proposed care plan adjustments, as well as our commitment to better understand what happened so that we could minimize the risk of similar future errors.  To date, there hasn’t been a lawsuit or payout with this case.

Recently, however, there was an article on the subject of disclosing medical errors to patients and their families that was titled, “Should Docs Rethink Saying 'I'm Sorry' After a Medical Error?”  That article points out that coordinated timely full disclosure has significant benefits when applied with a skilled mitigation team in the acute hospital setting, but in the surgical specialties, may actually not minimize the risk of a subsequent lawsuit or a large compensation award.  The article also points out the importance of making a disclosure early on so that the patient and family know that you aren’t attempting to cover up what happened. This early disclosure needs to be carefully couched and coordinated so that the apology is heard, but also the reality that medical errors are complex and may take extensive investigation (root cause analysis) to understand what went wrong and what can be done in the future to minimize the chances of the occurrence of a similar error.   

I still believe that transparency is good for providers and facilities since it is morally the right thing to do and since it also forces us to face the error constructively.  My insurer, NORCAL, has helpful information on disclosing medical errors.  I recommend working with your insurer to make sure training like this is available to providers and the administrative team.  The time to prepare for error management is now, before a serious error occurs and your facility is stress tested.  

If your facility or providers have been stress tested, we would love to have you share your experience and learning with our readers.

Referenced Articles:

Has Your Team's Integrity Been Stress Tested?

Should Docs Rethink Saying 'I'm Sorry' After a Medical Error?

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