Why do medical professionals fail to admit medication errors?

Human error is present in every aspect of daily life and no person is immune from experiencing its effects, neither the person accidently making the mistake nor the victim of it. The seriousness of human error is especially prominent when it concerns our health.

When a patient seeks the care of a medical professional, they are in a vulnerable position. The patient must place a great deal of trust in their doctor, nurse or pharmacist and when the patient is harmed by medication errors, a betrayal of that trust accompanies any harmful effect from the mistake itself.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report that as many as 98,000 deaths occurred each year as a result of medical errors. At that time, it was the fifth most common cause of death in the United States. Even with the advance in medical technology since that time, medical errors remain a serious problem.

Accepting the proposition that human error leads to flawed, and even dangerous, patient care, the issue becomes the appropriate disclosure by the medical professional to the patient. Obviously, medical professionals are uncomfortable disclosing mistakes they may have made to patients.

Young physicians are often concerned with establishing their careers and reputation. Disclosing medication errors to their patients or their superiors can be seen as something that will hinder their career advancement. Other physicians are worried about liability concerns. Patient safety is the number one concern, however, and medical professionals should be aware that admitting mistakes is the best thing to improve patient safety.

Whether a medication error rises to the level of medical negligence or not depends on a number of factors. Those who are harmed by such errors may want to speak with an attorney.

Source: The New York Times, “When Medical Students Make Errors,” Dhruv Khullar, May 15, 2014