Mistakes In the Medical Profession

[ By on April 27, 2016 ]

Mistakes happen and are inevitable in everyday life. Errors can and do occur in every profession, every circumstance, and to everyone, but in the medical profession these mistakes could mean the life or death of an individual. These mistakes can be for a variety of reason. They can occur from the scientific uncertainty of the practice of medicine or even the simple blunder of an individual doctor or nurse. A physician’s mistake can happen for many reasons: lack of sleep, distractions, incomplete knowledge of a disease or other ailment or even something as small as reading a number wrong could result in an error. Should physicians be obligated ethically to divulge an error to a patient or their family? The doctor-patient relationship is heavily based on trust and the duty of the doctor to treat and care for a patient to the best of their ability. However, when these mistakes do happen, and the doctor is at fault, is telling the truth the best option? In some cases, this disclosure could harm the patient more than help him or her. For instance, if a patient is already dying of lung cancer and he or she is given the wrong dose of radiation which shortens their life expectancy could telling the individual hurt them more than pretending no mistake was made? Or do doctors have an obligation to their patient in every instance? In other cases, a mistake could cause a patient suffering, but not death. This admission could also damage the physician’s career. While the typical rule of thumb is honesty is the best policy, with something as fragile and complex as patient care and doctor-patient relations, could this golden rule could be circumstantial?

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5 Comments on “Mistakes In the Medical Profession”

  1. ihilder

    Kelley Nicholson-Flynn

    [ May 04, 2016 at 12:35 am ]

    Isabelle, the key question in your post is about physicians informing patients if they made a “mistake.” You seem to hit on an interesting distinction – a mistake that was really just an error versus a “mistake” that was due to uncertainty. Do you think there is an ethical difference between them?

    Also, I think this would be a good case to apply the frameworks. I think you get some clear cut answers!

  2. ihilder

    This seems to be a very large question for most because there are benefits to both side. Have you seen the article by the University of Chile it can be found at this URL http://www.uchile.cl/portal/investigacion/centro-interdisciplinario-de-estudios-en-bioetica/publicaciones/76983/honesty-in-medicine-should-doctors-tell-the-truth. It is a very interesting article that talks about both sides of the topic and explains in great detail the pros for both.

  3. ihilder

    Vitalii Tikhonov

    [ May 05, 2016 at 2:47 pm ]

    It is very hard to decide in this situation rather to tell the truth or lie. I feel like that the patient needs to know the truth because its his body and his life. He deserves to know why this happening to him. I feel like there is a specific laws in the world of medicine about patient- doctor relationship. On the other side I think that doctors are should not be punished very harsh if this mistake was made could not have been avoided. I found a very interesting article that you might be interested in discussing this problem.

  4. ihilder

    Jed Silverstein

    [ May 05, 2016 at 7:28 pm ]

    Hi Isabelle,

    I like your pitch. I think you are noticing a tension between two very different ways of thinking about our moral obligations. First, one could focus on maximizing the overall good — this would be a utilitarian approach. Or one could focus on respecting the dignity and autonomy of the individual — a Kantian or deontological approach. Act-utilitarians famously disavow the moral necessity of universal principles, and embrace a contextual, situational approach to moral reasoning. The deontologist insists that the hallmark of any moral idea must be its universality and consistent application across a wide variety of cases. I think playing out your dilemma against these two moral orientations would be helpful in structuring your response!


  5. ihilder

    Michael Sclafani

    [ May 10, 2016 at 2:35 am ]

    What about the question of whether or not a patient is entitled to full disclosure about their own health? Could a patient make truly informed decisions about themselves without that information? How does the patient’s rights fit into this equation?

Hi Stranger, reply with your thoughts:

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