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Doctors Could Do More to Protect Patients’ Safety

March 11th, 2011

In a special online publication by the British Medical Journal Quality & Safety, researchers report the results of a poll of doctors in the United States and Great Britain about various aspects of professional behavior. The results are surprising, and not all in a good way.

The following are the answers given by the U.S. physicians:

  • Should doctors put patients’ interests above their own financial interests? Seems obvious, right? But only about 3 out of 4 answered yes.
  • Should doctors report all instances of significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues? As a patient, I would like to know that doctors would report other doctors if they were drunk, high, or incompetent. However, only 63% of doctors said they would do so. That means 37% of doctors would look the other way.
  • Should doctors disclose significant medical errors to patients affected? Only about 64% said yes.

The researchers asked those doctors who observed impaired or incompetent behavior why they didn’t report the behavior, and also what other action they took. About half the doctors who observed inappropriate behavior said they had spoken directly with the offending physician, and 20% said they thought someone else was dealing with the problem. In addition, the most common action reported by U.S. doctors faced with an impaired colleague was to stop referring to that doctor. (That reasoning seems a bit like a child’s game of peek-a-boo: If my eyes are covered, you (or your incompetent behaviors) don’t exist. When played in the field of healthcare, that can be a dangerous game.

To read the full article, click here:  Professional values and reported behaviours of doctors in the USA and UK

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