Why Doctors Don’t Report Colleagues’ Medical Mistakes

Medical mistakes happen far more often than we would like to think. In fact, patients might not even be aware of a medical error – but other doctors might be. As this Moneylife article says, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States and doctors often witness medical errors made by their peers, but all too often the doctors decide not to tell the patient about the medial mistake.

A new report in The New England Journal of Medicine, “Talking With Patients About Other Clinicians’ Errors,” suggests that non-reporting is quite common. The report’s lead author, Dr. Thomas Gallagher, an internist and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, reports that a survey of doctors revealed that half of them had identified at least one medical error by a colleague in the prior year.

According to Gallagher, although there is a general consensus among the medical community that doctors have an ethical duty to report their own medical errors to patients, there has been “less discussion about what physicians should do when they discover that someone else’s mistake.”

Doctors offered several reasons that they might stay mum about a colleague’s medical error, including the following:

  • Doctors depend on each other for business, which means that a doctor who “breaks the code of silence” may lose referrals;
  • Uncertainty about what happened to the patient and an unwillingness to determine what went wrong;
  • A reluctance to become entangled in a medical malpractice lawsuit or face legal consequences;
  • Cultural, general, and racial differences; and
  • Deference to a doctor’s seniority.

Gallagher also pointed out that “physicians experience the normal range of human emotions when they find a colleague’s error. They wonder if they can keep it to themselves or whether they’re compelled to tell someone. Or they consider what they would want to happen if they had made the error.” All of this results in too much leniency toward mistakes, he said.

According to Moneyline, the NEJM report urges doctors to put patients first and recommends that doctors explore, rather than ignore, a colleague’s medical error. Doctors should collect the facts and engage in a one-on-one conversation with the physician who made the medical error so they can decide how to inform the patient and take the necessary corrective action.

If you suspect that you experienced a medical error, you should consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Cogan & Power, P.C. is a premier Chicago medical malpractice law firm that is dedicated to protecting the legal rights of the victims of medical malpractice and their families. Our extensive experience handling a wide variety of medical malpractice cases, along with our keen knowledge of the legal and medical issues involved, allows us to provide our clients with exceptional legal advice and advocacy as we strive to get them the compensation that they deserve.

Contact our office at (312) 477-2500 to schedule a free consultation with one of our compassionate and well-respected Chicago medical malpractice attorneys.