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Healthcare culture discourages reporting errors

Almost 200 thousand people die each year in the United States due to preventable medical errors. Yet, only a very small minority of clinical staff challenges colleagues who make mistakes. Kentucky practitioners who make an error once may make the same mistake again unless someone speaks up. However, the culture of silence in the healthcare field discourages confrontations, potentially putting patients at risk.

A study of healthcare practitioners found that over 80 percent of physicians had personally observed a colleague take shortcuts that put patients in danger, and a slightly higher percentage reported working with people who demonstrated poor clinical judgment. Most of these events go unreported due to fear of being considered a snitch.

Safety tools have been developed to prevent medical errors, but one study concluded that safety tools cannot replace communication regarding medical errors when they occur. Some people support the use of communication technology that would remove the stigma of reporting errors because the technology would have detected the error and potentially resulted in discipline of the offending practitioner as well as those who failed to report the error.

This kind of communication technology has been compared to the black boxes on airplanes. The black boxes record virtually everything that occurs in the plane and provide an incentive for communication and safety improvement. Health care does not yet have the black box equivalent. An individual who is the victim of a medical error or misdiagnosis may consult with an attorney with experience in malpractice cases. The attorney may be able to prove negligence on the part of the person who committed the error as well as also those who failed to report it. That evidence may allow the individual to receive a settlement or damages award to compensate for the effect of the failure to communicate.