Can a little honesty – or candor – on the part of doctors and hospitals after they make serious medical errors help their innocent victims?

When health care providers make preventable mistakes during patient care, the consequences can be deadly. And they happen far too often in this country. A study released earlier this year places medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States. The most common types of medical mistakes include wrong-site surgery, misdiagnosis, and medication errors.

Unfortunately, patients and their families often experience only silence from doctors and hospitals following a catastrophic medical mistake. The knee-jerk reaction is to resist providing any detailed explanation of what went wrong, only compounding the error and the impact felt by grieving families. Rarely – if ever – do they immediately admit fault.

Silence is Routine at Hospitals

This silence can be approved hospital protocol when things go terribly wrong during treatment. Serious mistakes are usually only discussed and reviewed privately by the hospital’s medical and legal staff, leaving surviving loved ones in the dark.

This issue has become so prevalent that the federal government is now prodding hospitals to be more open with patients and their families following grave medical errors.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recently announced a new program called Communication and Optimal Resolution, or CANDOR. The program’s goal is to shift hospitals toward openness when they make preventable medical mistakes. The CANDOR program calls for a hospital to have a team of professionals dedicated to rapid communication with patients and families following a catastrophic medical mistake.

Are Missouri Hospitals Transparent After Serious Medical Errors?

But will this dramatic culture shift catch on with Missouri hospitals?

The Leapfrog Group is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving patient care safety. It annually rates hospitals using a variety of safety benchmarks. One of the benchmarks is “Never Events Management,” which measures how transparent a hospital is after a medical error.

It currently rates almost 40 hospitals within 50 miles of St. Louis. The overwhelming majority of these local hospitals did not disclose their openness efforts in the survey or, if they did, their steps did not meet the standards of the watchdog group.

Unfortunately, patients and their families must then do what they can to help ensure medical errors aren’t made in the first place. These steps include:

· Let your doctor know about every drug – prescription or over-the-counter – you’re taking

· Insist that hospital caregivers wash their hands before touching you or your loved one

· Prior to any surgery, make sure it’s clear what the procedure is, and that the surgeon marks the correct body location

Until all hospitals admit every catastrophic medical error and readily provide just compensation to their victims, patients and surviving families need an experienced medical malpractice attorney to uncover what went wrong and pursue appropriate justice on their behalf.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.