If you are like many people, as the date of your surgery approached, you found yourself dwelling more often on what could go wrong. After all, surgery — even the most routine procedure — involves a great deal of trust in near-total strangers. Friends may have tried to console you by reminding you that the surgeon had done hundreds, maybe thousands, of these operations, and that everything would be fine. Nevertheless, it was natural for you to feel nervous.
So, how did the surgery go? Did your doctor come to your room and declare that everything went great? Do you think your surgeon told the truth?
Medical errors, especially those in the operating room, are now the number three cause of death in the country. About 250,000 people in Tennessee and across the United States die each year from medical mistakes, including surgical errors, missed diagnoses and incorrect prescriptions. While some hospitals are working to find causes and solutions, many doctors are reluctant to take the recommended steps when an error occurs.
Studies show that following a certain protocol after a medical mistake benefits the patients and their families. If you are the victim of a medical mistake, the responsible doctor or other medical professional should do the following:
- Explain to you or your family what went wrong and why within 24 hours of the mistake
- Apologize for the error
- Show concern for your well-being and recovery
- Arrange for the treatment of any resulting issues
You deserve to know if things didn’t go as planned. Some patient advocates say that doctors should tell you about any deviation from the planned therapy, even if it is a minor technical error that requires you to take antibiotics as a precaution. Certainly, if a surgeon injures you, you have a right to know about it and to hear what the hospital intends to do about it.
The importance of telling the truth
The medical community is moving slowly toward a culture of full disclosure by including in medical school curricula courses for dealing with adverse events. Studies are showing that patients who don’t receive information about errors in their care may suffer needlessly from side effects they don’t understand.
While an apology is the least you can expect from a doctor, it may not be enough if you have to make major adaptations to your life. Medical mistakes can be life-changing, and when you suffer because of the carelessness, negligence or incompetence of a medical professional, you have the right to seek legal advice about your options.