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Doctors often protect colleagues who make mistakes

Doctors perform so many functions throughout the course of one day that it's hard to imagine they would never make a mistake like misdiagnosing a physical ailment or prescribing the wrong medication. Perhaps they simply have the charts mixed up and are working with the wrong patient.

What happens when a fellow doctor or other medical staff notices the error? It makes sense that the truth must be told, but the reality is that jobs may hang in the balance for those that reveal medical mistakes. The unofficial code of silence too often holds precedence over the truth with fellow health care providers at the top of the loyalty chain while the patient or victim comes in second place.

In many cases, the patient would have no idea that their physician had made an error. Other doctors might know, but aren't necessarily going to tell the patient. They may believe that they are between a rock and a hard place ethically, unsure of whether they should remain loyal to their colleague or tell the patient exactly what they saw. Loyalty to a colleague is not the only reason another doctor might be hesitant to speak the truth. There could be an element of self-preservation concerned as the doctor in question might be sitting on a board for a peer review. There are ways that the mistaken doctor could exact revenge on the co-worker who spoke about his or her misstep.

One of the leading causes of death in today's hospitals is medical error. When mistakes occur, the patient, who may be irreparably harmed in the process, becomes a victim and may be eligible for compensation. Lawyers might be able to win a case of medical malpractice that provides compensation for costs associated with medical bills and other expenses incurred by medical error.

Source: Pacific Standard, "Why Doctors Stay Silent About Mistakes Their Colleagues Make", Marshall Allen, November 25, 2013

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