New York is one of a few states that has yet to pass a law that will enable doctors to apologize to patients when procedures go wrong without fear of reprisal in the form of a medical malpractice suit. In the past, many doctors would not say anything or register any form of regret out of fear that it would be construed as an admission of guilt.
Even with this new landscape, the question of whether doctors should disclose each other’s mistakes remains a touchy subject. After all, doctors have enjoyed a long-established culture where they do not comment on each other’s mistakes.
This is likely because peer review is not a part of the culture engendered among physicians, especially high level surgeons. Instead, criticism may be taken as a personal and a professional affront. Also, newer doctors are more likely to be reluctant to criticize a senior colleague out of respect (or fear). Moreover, busy doctors may not notice mistakes or believe that they do not have the time (or the responsibility) to air their concerns about their colleagues’ mistakes.
Because of this, medical errors may go unreported.
As medical malpractice attorneys, we find this culture interesting and troubling. On the one hand, it is a reasonable expectation that doctors would take the time to address problems that could put a patient’s life in jeopardy, regardless of who is treating them. Also, it is commonplace to have another doctor’s opinion as to whether the offending physician acted reasonably. Without a consistent system of accountability, doctors and the hospitals they work for could be subject to medical malpractice charges.