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Don’t expect apology if surgeon makes a mistake

Patients in Ohio and across the U.S. shouldn’t count on an apology if a surgeon makes a mistake during a procedure, according to a survey. Published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, the found that the vast majority of surgeons followed some national disclosure guidelines after making a medical mistake, but only 55 percent apologized to patients after an error.

Researchers surveyed more than 60 surgeons from three Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers about what information they disclosed to a patient after an adverse surgical event. The survey found that most of them said that they followed five of eight recommended disclosure practices after making an error. These practices included disclosing the mistake within 24 hours, explaining to the patient or family why the mistake occurred and expressing regret for the mistake.

The surgeons were also asked how the experience of disclosing mistakes affected them. The study found that doctors who were less likely to talk about error prevention were more like to be negatively affected by it. Doctors who told patients the mistake was “very” or “extremely” serious and those who had difficulty discussing the event also had more negative experiences. Surgeons with more negative attitudes also had greater anxiety about their patients’ recovery.

According to an expert on medical disclosure, surgeons depend on confidence to perform surgery, and disclosing errors can be psychologically difficult. However, hospitals should encourage doctors to admit errors without fear of a punitive response so they can learn from them.

A mistake made by a surgeon during a procedure could lead to a worsened medical condition requiring additional expensive medical care and treatment. Patients who have found themselves in this position may want to meet with an attorney to discuss whether the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit would be appropriate.

Source: CBS News, “Would a surgeon tell you if something went wrong during your operation?,” Mary Marcus, July 20, 2016