Non-Disclosure of Medical Errors an Egregious Violation of Ethical Principles
Ghana medical journal 2009 Mar; 43(1): 34-9
Medical errors will likely continue as long as clinicians remain fallible humans. Once they occur though, what should be the attitude of the medical profession? Should it be to withhold such information from patients since 'what they don't know can't hurt them' or should such information be honestly disclosed to patients and the appropriate measures taken to redress and prevent any such errors in future? Although most doctors believe that errors should be disclosed to patients when they occur, in reality, most doctors and institutions do not disclose such mishaps to patients and their families. Rather, they engage in extensive cover ups under the guise of protecting the doctor-patient relationship and not causing harm to patients. This paper, however, will show that non-disclosure of medical errors to patients and/or their families is a violation of ethical principles and cannot ever be justified.By not disclosing a medical error, the doctor conspicuously places his own interests above that of the patient to the detriment of the patient, thereby violating a patient-centered ethic. Moral courage is therefore needed if doctors are to do the right thing when medical errors occur. This moral courage can be facilitated by institutions having policies and guidelines on disclosure of errors in place, training doctors and other hospital staff on how to disclose medical errors and providing emotional support for doctors who make mistakes in their efforts to treat patients and save lives.
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