American Medical News reported this week on the way that some medical facilities try to hide cover up, or otherwise distort information about medical errors. Instead of creating a “culture of safety” where mistakes are admitted and discussed to understand how they occur-conversations about them are often avoided entirely. Contrary to popular perception, medical malpractice lawyers are not about shaming or blaming individual doctors for mistakes that occur. Our role is to ensure that the one hurt by the misconduct of another receives fair redress for their loss-the shaming of the ones responsible is not at all a goal.
However, beyond redress, acting as a motivator to spur safety changes is a goal of all medical malpractice lawsuits. Yet, the culture in some medical facilities that tries to shield errors does not prioritize improvements. Fortunately, more and more steps are being taken to force that actual cultures of safety to be created. Medicare payments are often pegged to certain accountability standards and more evidence has been found which show that safer cultures correlate with fewer preventable medical errors and better outcomes for patients.
But there is still a long way to go.
Data released this month from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has found that most medical professionals admit that the involved organizations are most interested in punishing individual professionals that make a mistake instead of harboring an open environment where errors are used as opportunities to learn and improve care. The data was culled from over 600,000 medical staff members who answered surveys at well over a thousand hospitals across the country.
Of the survey group, nearly 66% admitted that their mistakes were held in a personnel file. More than half actually did not feel free to “question the decisions or actions of those with more authority.” Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers know that honesty is almost always the best (and safest) policy. When individual employees fear admitting errors, the patient is the one who suffers. One chief medical provider at a large hospital noted, “You can see how the traditional approach…has a hall monitor in elementary school feeling to it. It’s extraordinarily destructive in a patient safety context.”
Many medical facilities claim that they do not take this “finger pointing” approach-but observers say their claims are usually not following up by changes in action. As another patient safety expert admitted of the industry, “We’ve given more rhetoric than we have resources to this problem in health care.”
Instead, the Illinois medical malpractice lawyers at our firm believe that transparency is the best solution. Some medical facilities have shown great success by investigating claims of errors, being open with patients about the adverse events, and providing compensation for those errors when necessary. Fear of reporting errors by employees has been found to be far less common at hospitals with this open approach. Not surprisingly, this is reflected in patient safety statistics. When mistakes are not covered up, they can be learned from. When individual employees are not shunned for errors, they can use these opportunities as chances to understand weakness in their protocol and enact changes to prevent future harm.
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