There are few contexts in which the term circle the wagons seems more appropriate than when describing the typical reaction hospitals and other healthcare facilities have to the realizing that a mistake may have been made. Although some doctors are compelled by personal ethics to be upfront with patients and their families about mistakes, others take immediate steps to obscure the truth, even going so far as to encourage colleagues with knowledge of the situation to keep quiet.
Attorneys have long had an ethical duty to advise the bar if they become aware of unethical or improper conduct by one of their colleagues. However, no such clear guideline exists for physicians. In fact, many believe the current culture in the medical community actively encourages medical professionals to keep quiet about mistakes that come to their attention.
In November 2013, a panel of physicians published a number of recommendations in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine on how best to increase transparency surrounding medical mistakes. The article expressed the following priorities:
- Reaffirming a physician's ethical duty of honesty and transparency to patients
- Encouraging doctors to remonstrate with colleagues who appear to have made a mistake
- Encouraging institutions to create guidelines for confronting mistakes and near misses and managing disclosure of the facts surrounding such events.
Should the medical community begin to move toward these guidelines, it could significantly change the landscape of medical malpractice litigation and make it easier for victims and their families to get satisfaction without the need for lengthy and contentious court battles. However, even when a physician or hospital seems open and accommodating in the wake of a medical mistake, only an experiencedmedical malpractice attorney can thoroughly and accurately advise you of your rights.