Court decision may ultimately endanger patient safety efforts

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Nov 25, 2012 in Doctor Errors

One of the best ways to prevent future mistakes is to learn from those mistakes which have already been made. In the context of medical malpractice , unless physicians are free to compare notes on mistakes which have been made without fear of public disclosure or prosecution, those mistakes will be covered up and no future patients will benefit from the learning experience which accompanies processing these past mistakes.

Unfortunately, a Kentucky Court of Appeals decision may lead physicians to drive their mistakes underground and ultimately harm patient safety. Under current methods of mistake-based learning, physicians and other healthcare providers regularly conduct sessions in which they explain patient situations gone wrong and in doing so, other physicians learn how to avoid making the same mistakes.

However, the Kentucky decision insists that these learning sessions be discoverable and disclosed upon request, unless the incident report in question was prepared explicitly by a physician being accused of medical malpractice in a given case. This means that any other reports may be submitted to a requesting court and disclosed to the public.

Mistakes happen in every profession. Tragically, when physicians make mistakes, patients can be injured or killed as a result. However, in learning from these mistakes, physicians can prevent further tragedy. If physicians or their employers are concerned that sessions aimed at learning from these mistakes will be discoverable and can potentially harm their reputations, they may stop holding these sessions and learning from their mistakes. In this particular case, broad patient safety concerns should inspire any court reviewing this case to overturn this ruling.

Source: American Medical News, "Doctors appeal rulings that diminish error reporting protections," Alicia Gallegos, Nov. 19, 2012

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