Doctors and Hospitals are Allowed to Keep Mistakes Secret

Sometimes it can be hard to know when you have been a victim of medical malpractice. Medicine is an extremely complex field, which is exactly why we rely on health care providers rather than just treating ourselves. It is impossible to know exactly how much malpractice goes undetected by its victims. But there is also a different knowledge gap when it comes to medical malpractice. Even in those case where the direct victim of the malpractice knows about it and is able to obtain a malpractice settlement, it is common for other patients to have know way of learning about the malpractice meaning they too could become victims.

Confidential Settlements Keep Patients in the Dark

News Channel WSOC in Charlotte, North Carolina recently reported on the issue of confidentiality agreements in medical malpractice cases. A reporter interviewed a woman who accepted a settlement that included a confidentiality agreement after having a surgical sponge left in her body during an abdominal surgery. Because the woman had signed the confidentiality agreement she could not tell anyone about what had happened to her. She is now an advocate for changing the law to prevent these confidentiality agreements so that the public is not kept in the dark about incidents like hers.

These clauses have become incredibly common in all civil litigation. Defendants in lawsuits often require them so as to prevent other copycat lawsuits and to prevent the public from learning about or believing accusations against the defendant. The thing is, in particularly strong cases where it is obvious and evident that a doctor has been negligent and caused a patient damages, the doctor is very likely to settle.

So in those cases where there is the least doubt that the doctor committed an error, the public is the least likely to ever learn about the error and be able to take it into account when choosing a physician. While taking the settlement despite the confidentiality provision is often times in the already injured plaintiff’s best interest, the doctor’s potential future patients are left in the dark. This is particularly troubling when the malpractice is of the sort that is just never supposed to happen, like leaving a sponge inside of a person or operating on the wrong body part.

Some Limited Information is Available

While the results of medical malpractice cases that are settled are often secret, there are some sources patients can use in evaluating their potential physicians. The Federation of State Medical Boards has created a website called “DocInfo.” This website can help you determine whether a doctor has ever been disciplined by a state medical board, where he or she is licensed, and what his or her educational background is. The database also includes information about many physician assistants. This means that if a doctor’s conduct was so egregious so as to result in disciplinary sanctions, you may be able to learn about it. However, not all medical malpractice results in a doctor being disciplined, so the information is not complete.

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