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Survey looks at how surgeons disclose errors

Surgeons are dedicated people who do their best to help patients, so they may take it personally when making a mistake. While this shows that surgeons care and want to deliver proper medical treatment, they could also have a hard time admitting and discussing errors when they occur. North Carolina residents might like to know about the survey taken by more than 60 surgeons from three Veterans Affairs medical centers and published in JAMA Surgery.

National guidelines advise hospitals and physicians to fully disclose mistakes when they happen. An overwhelming majority of the surgeons polled said that they followed five out of eight practices for disclosing adverse surgical events that include explaining why the error occurred within 24 hours after an operation, showing concern, expressing regret and treating problems that result from the event. However, only 55 percent said that they had apologized to the patient or family members or talked about whether the mistake was preventable.

One professor who focuses on disclosure in medicine and surgery said that secrecy and silence were normal in the past but that it is now more widely accepted that patients have a right to know if something goes wrong. However, this does not mean that surgeons know how to properly communicate with patients when addressing errors.

There is always some risk involved with any procedure, and something unexpected may occur even if a surgeon does everything right. Not all surgical errors amount to medical malpractice, however, and an attorney can review a patient's hospital records and obtain the opinion of medical experts in order to see if there was a failure to exhibit the requisite standard of care.

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