Medical errors happen whether we like them or not. Doctors spend their entire lives studying, learning, and practicing so that they don’t make mistakes, but unfortunately they do. We keep forgetting that doctors are people too and just like everyone else they err. It’s safe to say that no medical mistake or error is done on purpose. Even if we’re going to say that a particular doctor is a monster, he or she will still be afraid of medical malpractice and what might come next. So rest assured that regardless of the mistake that was made, it wasn’t on purpose. That doesn’t mean, however; that doctors aren’t at fault. If a doctor doesn’t know his or her medicine properly and makes a mistake then they’re at fault. If they hadn’t slept well and made a mistake because they are tired then they’re at fault. Fortunately those who make it as actual doctors and surgeons are neither lazy nor negligent. You don’t get through medical school and residency by being careless. That’s why most medical errors can be out of a doctor’s hand. Perhaps the field wasn’t clear enough for a surgeon or the patient developed an unexpected allergy.
There are things that a doctor has no way of predicting or expecting and thereby avoiding them is almost impossible. A doctor should be competent and prepared enough to prepare for any complication or mistake that happens in order undo the damage as soon as possible. So what comes after the entire ordeal is over? Should a doctor hide a mistake from a patient if all eventually went well? If the patient was awake and was mentally present during the situation should a doctor lie about what happened? What about malpractice, how does that affect things?
Honesty is and always will be the best policy. If you make a mistake then you should probably tell your patient. Most often patients will accept the situation and understand if you explain what happened to them and it wasn’t your fault. Some patients will unfortunately still sue you and the hospital for what happened. If you explain to the patient for instance that they developed an unexpected allergy and went into anaphylaxis that was dealt with as quickly as possible then they may understand. You may want to explain what anaphylaxis is to them if they’re unfamiliar with the term and explain that you had no way of knowing they were allergic to a certain substance or material. There’s nothing you could’ve done to stop this. What was in your hands was how fast you reacted and whether or not you undid the damage. So if you did your job and treated the anaphylaxis then what’s the problem? Something you couldn’t have predicted happened, but you dealt with it like a professional so your conscience can rest easy.
Unfortunately it’s not always so simple. Sometimes you can be at fault and here things get a little trickier. Telling the truth is more difficult when you’re feeling guilty and there could be consequences. If you knew the patient was allergic to penicillin and still gave her penicillin anyway then you’re being negligent. Whether you simply forgot or were too tired that’s all on you. If at your office you forget that your patient is diabetic and prescribe him a diuretic that ends up worsening the diabetes then that’s your fault too. You still need to confront them and take the blame which is rightfully yours to take. Explain what happened and sincerely apologize. That’s the best way to do it. All you can do is hope that they forgive you and can trust you again.
If you lie and the patient finds out then you could be in big trouble. If a patient during a follow up with another doctor discovers a mistake was made then they’ll probably going to come after you if you hid it from them. People can accept mistakes because we all make them, but we can’t accept being lied to. You made an error then made it worse by deceiving the patient in order to protect yourself whether emotionally or from malpractice consequences. If this happens the patient will never trust you again, your reputation will be affected, and they’ll likely sue you.
Malpractice is a very serious thing and a lot of people and lawyers are very eager to sue doctors for medical malpractice. There are ways in order to minimize the risk of getting sued. For starters your patients should like you. Studies have shown that patients are less likely to sue doctors that they like. If you make a mistake and your patients don’t like or trust you then they’re more likely to sue you. Maybe that’s because they believe you don’t like them too so you hurt them intentionally, or maybe because they never liked you and believe you’re incompetent and that this will probably be repeated either with them or someone else. On the other hand if they trust and like you then they’ll know it was totally out of your hands and that you’re an excellent doctors regardless. If you lie to them or hide a mistake they’re not really going to like you, are they? Even if you were their favorite doctor before that, being deceived by your doctor is unforgivable. So if you make a mistake inform your patient(s). They’re bound to find out sooner or later and it’s better if they find out as soon as possible and from you. You’re the one they trust their lives with.
Establish a great doctor patient relationship. Get to know your patients and let them know a little about you too. Take everything they say to you with absolute confidence and earn their trust. Most patients just need someone to talk to. They need someone who listens and doesn’t judge. If their doctor can’t provide that then who can? If you’re into the field of medicine then you probably like helping people so this should be easy for you to do. If you’re not into that and have other motives then at least be afraid of malpractice and its consequences.
Never forget the mistakes you make. If you make a mistake once it’s okay, if you make it twice then that is almost definitely your fault. Don’t take things lightly, but don’t let them drive you to depression either. Remember each mistake so that it never happens again, and that if it does because you can’t predict it make sure you’re better prepared to deal with it than the last time it happened. Anyone who’s good in their career isn’t someone who doesn’t make any mistakes, but someone who learns from them. It’s why we solve practice questions before we take a test. We make a mistake and we learn from it so that we don’t repeat it in the actual exam. It’s the same concept except there are lives at stake.
All physicians make mistakes eventually. They’re more likely to be unpredictable and unforeseen situations that leave a doctor in a tight spot and potentially an emergency. Less likely is a doctor expected to make a mistake because he or she was careless or simply tired. The human body is unpredictable and things can happen that surprise physicians. The important thing is to know how to react to a situation like that in order to minimize the damage done to the patient. It’s absolutely necessary that you let the patient know what happened and explain things to them even if you believe it’ll get you sued. It’s their body after all and they’re going to be the ones to suffer the consequences if there are any. Finally, never let things pass easily if a patient forgives you. Remember mistakes and work on yourself.