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New study shows surgical patients aren't being informed of mistakes

By Rob Lewis

One of the many reasons that the civil justice system-- and the jury trial in particular --is so instrumental in enforcing patient rights and ensuring patient safety is that the medical industry, when left to its own devices, generally refuses to police itself. Time and time again, the same mistake is made more than once by the same provider. When asked if they would do anything different the next time after injuring a patient, the negligent doctor or nurse often adamantly states that they would not change a thing. Frequently, the negligent doctor or nurse will fail to even disclose to the patient that a mistake has been made. This particular point was brought out recently in a study discussed in JAMA Surgery article. See A. Rany Elwy, PhD., et al., Surgeons' Disclosures of Clinical Adverse Events (July 20,2016),

In the study discussed in the article, surgeons were polled on how they reacted after discovering the occurrence of an adverse event. In the study, it was found that only 55% of the surgeons apologized to patients or discussed whether the event was preventable, and only 32% discussed how the recurrences could be prevented. In other words, nearly half failed to admit that they made a preventable mistake and even fewer would discuss how easily such a mistake could have been prevented. According to the article, national guidelines recommend 8 actions be taken following a surgical adverse event:

1. Explain why the event happened.

2. Express regret for what happened.

3. Express concern for the patient's welfare.

4. Disclose the adverse event within 24 hours

5. Discuss steps taken to treat any subsequent problems

6. Apologize

7. Discussed whether the event was preventable

8. Discuss how recurrences could be prevented

See A. Rany Elwy, PhD., et al., Surgeons' Disclosures of Clinical Adverse Events (July 20,2016), If you have an adverse event or outcome after surgery, insist that your surgeon follow these guideline and if you suspect you have been injured as a result of negligence, then you should seek the advice of an attorney. The civil justice system may be the best way to ensure that not only do you get compensated appropriately but that the doctor becomes aware of the mistake and learns how to prevent it.

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