Ethical Issues Pertaining to Medical Errors Obviously, medical errors directly conflict with the ethical principle nonmaleficence, “first do no harm,” which encompasses not just deliberate harm, but also accidental harm associated with medical errors (Waite, 2005, p. 6). However, another important ethical consideration pertaining to medical errors is the duty to disclose the occurrence of a medical error. Waite (2005, p. 6) indicates, “Ethicists clearly endorse the full disclosure of medical error to patients.” Nevertheless, disclosure of medical errors is sporadic and remains controversial in the United States. Unfortunately, this leads to many medical errors remaining unknown to patients, because often the lack the specialized expertise held by physicians leads to the assumption the event occurred as a part of their disease process or hospital course (Waite, 2005). As such, a secondary ethical consideration pertaining to the duty to disclose is informed consent. Without disclosing an error, Waite (2005) argues it is impossible to achieve informed consent for subsequent treatment. In extreme cases, this lack of informed consent can lead physicians to commit further negligence or battery. Viewed by many as synonymous with admitting liability, disclosure of medical errors remains contentious. Considering the litigious nature of United States citizens, this is concerning for many physicians. Moreover, physicians are highly guided by professional standards and no such standard exists relative to the disclosure of medical errors. However, Waite (2005, p. 8) contends, “It is not necessary for a clear and unequivocal consensus about the exact scope of disclosure to exist before an ethical duty to disclose arises.” The American Medical Association
MEDICAL ERRORS 6 (AMA) issued a position statement in 2003, advocating for the physician-duty to disclose medical errors. However, many studies have indicated that the disclosure of medical errors accompanied by an apology may lead to a decreased propensity for litigation (Waite, 2005). Moreover, Waite (2005) reported a study conducted at Harvard University concluded a less than 2% rate of malpractice claims stemming from negligent adverse events. “Nevertheless, physicians continue to mistrust the legal process and risk managers focus more on reducing liability than on reducing error” (Waite, 2005, p. 28). As such, it is imperative that physicians are educated early on about the myths of medical malpractice litigation and the benefits of early, full disclosure. Waite (2005, p. 28) argues the judicial system serves to protect physicians, “By refusing to apply hindsight, by not holding physicians to a standard of infallibility, but only to the standard of a reasonable physician in similar circumstances, and by consistently upholding the principles that an error in judgment is not negligent without proof a breach of the standard of care, the legal profession and the justice system have consistently protected the medical profession from being held to a standard of perfection.”
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- medical errors, medical error, Medical malpractice, Costs of Medical Errors