Viewpoint: Don't punish the candor of those who report medical errors

The U.S. healthcare system should stop reacting harshly to employees who disclose medical errors, according to a physician at Boston-based Mass General Brigham. 

"We treat those who report [medical errors] more harshly than those who cover them up," which can discourage transparency, Vidya Raju, MD, an internal medicine-pediatrics physician, wrote in a piece published Aug. 7 in Medpage Today.

Dr. Raju cites several situations in which a healthcare worker was punished for reporting medical errors they were involved in, including the RaDonda Vaught case. Ms. Vaught was sentenced to three years of probation for a fatal medication error she made in 2017 while working as a nurse at Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt Medical Center. Witnessing the legal consequences providers face in these highly publicized cases may discourage others from reporting errors in the future, she said. 

Dr. Raju also cited the lack of a precise definition for medical errors as a factor in potentially skewed data on medical errors. 

"And if providers whitewash more errors, then we won't be able to improve flawed systems. Keeping patients safe requires healthcare providers to know what to report and have the confidence that superiors won't punish their candor," she said. 

"Physicians, prosecutors and administrators should be working on defining medical errors and training providers on how to optimally use the systems in place rather than penalizing and prosecuting providers who commit errors due to failed systems or whistleblowers," Dr. Raju said.

Click here to read the full piece. 

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