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Disclosing Unanticipated Medical Outcomes

By Carolyn Bell, RN, MN, Esq., Director of Risk Management

JCAHO regulations require that physicians disclose medical errors to patients and their families when the errors result in unanticipated medical outcomes. Confirmation of full disclosure must be documented by the physician in the progress notes (see CSMC Policy ADM 00110).

While disclosure, accompanied by an apology, is often difficult and embarrassing, it is the ethical course of action to follow. Patients have a right to know when medical error has caused them injury. Understandably, the fear of litigation may cause some physicians to resist disclosure, however, research indicates that patients are more likely to pursue litigation if they believe that the truth was not disclosed and that the hospital or physician withheld information.

For further information, you may reference (Hickson, G.B., "Patient Complaints and Malpractice Risk," JAMA. 287(22): 2951-2957, June 12, 2002.)

You will have the opportunity to learn more about the art and requirements of disclosure when Dr. Gerald B. Hickson speaks at the Medical Center on June 18 and 19, 2007.