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Focus: getting from doctor errors to full patient disclosure

On Behalf of | Nov 13, 2013 | Doctor Errors

It is certainly interesting to read one prominent doctor and medical commentator note that “one of the most difficult moments in one’s career” relates not to unraveling a complex illness or informing a patient of tragic news, but, rather, to a discussion with another doctor.

That discussion centers on medical error, specifically a mistake made by the doctor being communicated with. Dr. Jo Shapiro, a prominent physician and director of a hospital program centered on transparency and physician-patient disclosure, says that the acknowledgment of such an error, coupled with open discussion and remedial measures, is often a challenging endeavor.

And yet it is one that flatly must be undertaken in the interest of ethics and patient safety. In a recent article she co-wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine, Shapiro — who works at the well-known and regarded Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston — addresses the subject of one physician’s act of medical negligence that is observed by a peer practitioner.

The central query posed in her article is simply posed: What should be done?

In a most fundamental way, it likely surprising to most lay persons that there is even discussion or debate regarding such a subject. It is likely a unanimous view among patients that they have an absolute right to be promptly and candidly informed about any medical error that has visited harm upon them.

That same viewpoint, though, has been far from universal over the years among medical professionals. Shapiro notes that, while doctors have long noted errors committed by other physicians, it is only relatively recently that a new understanding has emerged “that patients have a right to know what has happened to them.”

Patients in New Jersey and everywhere else across the country obviously embrace such a change in thinking, which any reasonable person would say is long overdue in its arrival. Shapiro cites continuing roadblocks toward full implementation of such a welcome development in the medical industry, but notes that “the culture is changing.”

Source: WBUR, “Delicate doctoring moments: a medical error by another physician,” Rached Zimmerman, Nov. 1, 2013

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