Disclosure of Medical Errors

Healthcare professional practitioners are exposed to challenging circumstances when they make any kind of errors in their work. Error disclosure can be an important and sometimes complex issue for those working in health care settings. The professional code of ethics definitely provides channels through which an error can be addressed. However, even with these guidelines on error disclosure, ethical issues have continued to arise in cases where an error has occurred. This paper addresses the advantages and disadvantages of full and immediate disclosure of errors whenever they occur. The paper also addresses the issue of when to report a near miss incident in health care.

Professional, Ethical and Legal Aspects of Error Disclosure

The disclosure of error by physicians largely depends on the honesty of the physician. However, the professional code of ethics in health care requires physicians to disclose an error to their patients as soon as possible. Error disclosure can be an important and sometimes complex issue for those working in health care settings. This paper discusses the pros and cons of immediate full disclosure of errors.


According to Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2011), error disclosure is important in identifying the available solution to the problem that has been caused by the error. This means that when an error is disclosed, the physician and the patient can objectively discuss on measures to mitigate the effects of that error to the patient. As noted by Lamo (2011), the purpose of error disclosure in health care is not to save the costs associated with error but to ensure the safety of the patient.   

Similarly, full error disclosure is important in ensuring that the physician and the patient are relived morally. The physician has the moral and professional responsibility to disclose all information to the patient, while the patient has the right to know all information related to the treatment. Miller and Emanuel (2008) found out in their study that it was more likely for a patient who is informed of an error in earlier stages to seek alternative measures than to pursue for litigation in court.


Howie (2009) noted that error disclosure can have dire consequences on the part of the physician and the healthcare institution, as the patient might sue them for litigation. Error disclosure is also likely to affect the reputation of an otherwise good healthcare provider, as it is likely to attract a lot of unnecessary publicity. In addition, disclosing an error might cause the physician and the hospital to be stripped of their licenses (MediNews, 2011).


In conclusion, it is important for physicians and other healthcare providers to report near miss incidences to the relevant authorities as soon as those occur, so that preventive measures can be taken in cases where such incidences are likely to put the safety of the patient in jeopardy.

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