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Medical errors: Honesty is the best policy

October 3, 2016

About the Author

photo of Monique Tello, MD, MPH

Monique Tello, MD, MPH, Contributor

Dr. Monique Tello is a practicing physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, director of research and academic affairs for the MGH DGM Healthy Lifestyle Program, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School, and author of the evidence-based lifestyle … See Full Bio
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Hospital transport marlboro
November 2, 2016

Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

Maryalice Tilley
October 14, 2016

Informative article . I learned a lot from the information – Does anyone know where my business might grab a sample NY DOH-4359 version to complete ?

October 8, 2016

I would like to say, “Thank you”, for writing this arricle. I think that there are so many Dr’s who have been conditioned by the old school medical system into being scared to admit their mistakes for fear of legal action, which is truly sad and benefits no one.

I know from personal experience (just one of a couple I could point out), my Allergy:Immunology Dr’s made the mistake of giving me the same booster shot twice. Although this was in no way a danger to my health in the gramd scheme of things, still in this instance it was an error and one I pointed out, unfortunately, I did not catch it & question them about it until after they had administered it. At which time, I watched them almost fall over themselves and attempt to down play that a mistake had even happened. In the end, I know they had made an error, and my Dr eventually admitted to me they had made an error (after some time had passed & they were more comfortable of my intentions, which were that I had no intentions, as I realize that some times errors happen, and if they cause no harm, then for me, it wasn’t a big deal), and as I already stated, that once they figured that out, and I had reassured them that it was alright, No Harm, No Foul, errors happen (so, basically, I wasn’t going to run out and try to file a law suit), We were all able to move forward. I’ve had Dr’s prescribe medication for me that contained sulfur, to which I am HIGHLY sensitive and allergic. My Dr did not catch it, my Pharmacy did not catch it. Both of whom have it on record that I am highly allergic. And had I not caught it myself (looked up the new medication in the PDR), I could have take it and it caused me a reaction ranging from mild to anaphylactic shock. I pointed the lapse out to the pharmacy and told them I would not be picking it up, and I contacted my Dr’s office and explained the issue to my Dr’s nurse and requested they send in an alternate that did not include the sulfur to which I’m allergic.

My point is, 1) Patients need to take an active role in their health care, and to not always blindly accept a diagnosis, or a new medication (particularly if they have severe allergies), it is far better to be careful, get a 2nd opinion, or 4th, or 8th, until you the patient is comfortable with your treatment. 2) If an error does happen, depending on what and the level of the severity, as a patient, I would MUCH rather a Dr own up to it, than me have to catch it/point it out. i personally have more respect for any Dr who owns up to a mistake or error. I know that I feel far more comfortable knowing that in the future if something happens, my Dr will come to me and let me know, so that we can discuss it, then treat or correct it, and both move forward, together, as partners in my healthcare. It is an uncomfortable place to be as a patient, to feel like an adversary to your Dr, because of something as silly as a simple error/mistake, that resulted in little/no harm. Sadly, it does happen, and I have changed Dr’s because of it, because if my Dr can not be honest when treating me, than where will that put me if something else happens in the future? Because life & mistakes happen, we’re all human and medical care is not always (or ever really) an exact science. Dr’s can narrow things down, they can run tests to confirm, they can treat with medicine or surgery or whatever, but the outcome nor diagnosis is never a guarantee until the treatment works and time shows all of their attempts fix/correct the problem.

Again, Thank you for this article, and because of your honesty, I would be happy to have you on my heathcare team! Hopefully, your attitude (& that of your heathcare system) will catch on and become the more popular method of approaching patient care in the future. I think healthcare providers historically, do not place enough value in such honest approaches, and they fail to realize how much value patients place in finding/having the choice between picking a Dr who you KNOW will be honest with you no matter what, versus a Dr that isn’t or may not be fully honest if they make an error. I would bet that 99% of patients would even pay a premium to go to the “Honest Dr”, who has made a mistake & owned up to it versus a Dr whose track record is unknown to them, (even if it is one they have been seeing for years)….that’s my view anyway.

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
October 26, 2016

Thank you for sharing your experience and for the positive feedback! Most appreciated!

October 4, 2016

Great topic it was very helpful for me. However, Please give me one suggestion for me how can we reduce our fatal heart attack from heavily healthy problem?

Janice clardy
October 3, 2016

My brother had a nuclear test they were checking for staff.
When he came out of the procedure he had a c pac on his mouth I ask the nurse why she said he was having trouble breathing. I said he was ok before the procedure . So I insisted they call rapid response and they did.When they came in they put tube down his throat . He had two liters of blood in his chest cavity. He is asthmatic he takes q var and didn’t rinse afterward. What I’m want to tell you is people are dying because they don’ t get a chest ex ray after his procedure . I have two people say that they have relatives who were on q var also died . My brother didn’t die because I was there and insist on rapid response. HAVE EXRAY AFTER NUCLEAR TEST

Monique Tello, MD, MPH
October 26, 2016

Oh goodness, I am sorry for that experience you had. Thanks for sharing!

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