Dreading the Consequences
Despite the benefits of being honest about errors, many physicians have well-grounded fears about letting others know they failed. For one, they may fear how they will be perceived by others. “If you admit error to colleagues and partners, they may think less highly of you or be critical,” Dr. Wax said. “Even worse, there might be backlash at the department or hospital level, or referring physicians may stop sending you patients, and you won’t have a practice left.”
Physicians may also be naturally concerned about what a patient will do if you admit error. Will they stop seeing you? Will they sue you? “But the majority of the time, patients will understand, and you will be able to reach a consensus on how to make a resolution regarding the consequences,” Dr. Wax said.
In fact, Jennifer Lavin, MD, assistant professor in the division of pediatric otolaryngology at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, reports that several studies have shown that disclosing adverse events to patients and families has not put physicians at increased risk of litigation. Currently, the nonprofit organizations Sorry Works and Medically Induced Trauma Support Services are working to disseminate this message to providers.