Should Families Speak Up about Concerns over Medical Errors?

If you’ve ever found yourself concerned about the medical care of a loved one but did not speak up, you are far from alone.

When relatives are hospitalized for a serious illness that requires extensive care, the experience can be daunting for family members as well as the patients. Physicians may need to act quickly without much time to explain the patient’s condition and required care, especially early on.

But eventually, family members concerned about the treatment their loved ones are receiving face a dilemma: voice those concerns or stay silent.

A new study focused on that very dilemma, examining suspected errors made in hospital ICUs and how patient families handled them. The study (“Speaking Up About Care Concerns in the ICU: Patient and Family Experiences, Attitudes and Perceived Barriers”) was published in July by BMJ Quality and Safety, a healthcare trade publication.

Researchers surveyed families of just over 100 families of patients in the ICU of a teaching hospital, as well as more than 1,000 individuals with previous ICU experience elsewhere.

Most ICU Patient Family Members Concerned About Healthcare

Only 16 percent of family members of patients currently under ICU care and 17 percent of those with prior ICU experience said they had no medical care concerns.  However, most were uncomfortable in raising care issues with doctors.

Up to 70 percent of the ICU families said they were hesitant to speak up about their concerns over the medical care they were witnessing. This was true even in situations deemed “life or death” for the family member patient.

Nearly two-thirds said they were not comfortable in raising issues over the aggressiveness of the care.  Only half of those surveyed said they felt comfortable in asking questions about information they received from the care providers; less than half (46 percent) were comfortable raising any concerns over possible medical errors.

Less than one third – 31 percent – of the ICU families said they were comfortable discussing the hygiene of care providers.  Poor hygiene is a demonstrated cause of potentially fatal hospital-acquired infections.

The most common reasons family members gave for not speaking up about mistakes in care were concerns over being labeled a “troublemaker,” not knowing who to speak to, or simply not wanting to interrupt the care givers’ busy schedules.

Medication Errors Made in Hospitals

One positive note: about two-thirds of the current ICU patient families had no reservations bringing up medication issues.  Mix-ups over medications, such as the wrong dosage or the wrong administered drug, constitute a common serious medical error.

While ICU hospital settings can be intimidating, patient safety experts recommend an open dialogue with care givers to help avoid serous errors. This dialogue should be conducted by patients or designated family members when necessary.  Physicians should also explain treatment and potential dangers thoroughly and clearly, and be receptive to questions.

But family members who don’t speak up about errors are not complicit if their loved ones are harmed. Doctors and other medical professionals who make catastrophic and foreseeable mistakes are ultimately responsible.

If you or a family member were seriously harmed while in the hospital, consult a medical malpractice attorney to investigate.

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

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Articles July 30, 2018