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Medical ethicists, hospitals, and courts all agree that trust is essential for a working healthcare industry. Part of that trust includes physicians putting patients first and fully informing them of what they did to their body. This includes informing a patient when a doctor has made a mistake.

Despite all the rhetoric, a recent survey of patients who suffered serious medical errors indicates that as little as 30% of the health care professionals responsible for the mistake that caused the patient’s injury admitted that an error occurred. For years, doctors were trained to use caution when deciding to disclose medical errors. Those who subscribed to this belief argued that disclosure would only serve to scare patients, undermine trust, and increase the prevalence of medical negligence lawsuits. However, the opposite is actually true.

Recent studies show that disclosure of medical mistakes actually increases trust and eliminates the foremost reason for malpractice lawsuits. One major survey of medical negligence plaintiffs noted that many filed suit primarily because they believed their physician failed to be completely honest with them or intentionally mislead them. Conversely, recent studies show that healthcare systems with full-disclosure policies either saw no change in malpractice claims or saw a decrease in the number of claims, financial award amounts, and the costs of time and lawyers. See Kraman & Hamm Risk Management: Extreme Honesty May be the Best Policy, 131 Annals of Internal Medicine, 963 (1999).

Full disclosure is good medical practice that fosters confidence in patients, aids in recovery, and protects the dignity and rights of healthcare consumers. This is an idea whose time has come. Now backed by empirical proof, there is no reasonable excuse for healthcare professionals to do the right thing and admit their mistakes.

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