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Full disclosure of medical errors is slowly becoming more common

Doctors in Arizona and other states have slowly started acknowledging errors in patient care and admitting fault. While doctors may have previously been hesitant to discuss medical errors due to a fear of litigation or embarrassment, doctors in a 2006 survey said that patients deserved information when a mistake occurs.

When admitting to an error, the 2006 survey found that many physicians were careful about their word choices. Only 3 percent of the doctors surveyed would not disclose any information to a patient, but 56 percent would admit that an "adverse effect" occurred. This group did not give a clear statement about an error, but 42 percent of doctors practiced full disclosure. Full disclosure might be necessary after an error takes place because doctors may not clearly explain an error's consequences when being selective about their word choices.

Since full disclosure of an issue involves an apology and acknowledgement of responsibility by a physician, medical professionals can be wary since this acknowledgement could be used as evidence in a malpractice suit. However, admitting fault may prevent a suit since many patients are appeased when physicians fully disclose errors and apologize. Doctors might also be hesitant to admit mistakes because they are unsure of how to discuss an error and don't know what information needs to be disclosed so that a patient fully understands the situation.

Medical malpractice is serious and can change a patient's life permanently or cause a worsened condition, but a victim and family members might be confused or unsure about a situation since Arizona does not have a law that mandates disclosure of unanticipated outcomes. When doctor errors cause injuries, injured parties may be able to seek compensation for expenses and emotional damages either in or out of a court of law.

Source: Patient Safety Network, "Error Disclosure", October 22, 2014

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