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Nearly half of all U.S. doctors fail to report incompetent or unethical colleagues

A recent Yahoo! News article (“Half of U.S. Doctors mum…“) uncovered some disturbing findings regarding physician practices in the U.S. For instance:

  • “They found that 46 percent of physicians surveyed admitted they knew of a serious medical error that had been made but did not tell authorities about it.”
  • “Doctors are also surprisingly willing to order unnecessary — and often expensive — tests such as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scans.”
  • “While most of the doctors agreed they needed to keep up with changes in the profession and have their competence reviewed, only 31 percent had undergone a competency review in the past three years.”
  • “Just 25 percent said they were looking out to ensure they did not unintentionally treat someone differently because of their sex or race, the survey found. “

What does this tell us about doctors? That they are horrible people? No, simply that they are human.

Physicians–like the rest of us–do not like getting in trouble. They do not like to “tattle” on their colleagues and will order unnecessary tests to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits. These findings should not come as a surprise; more patients need to realize that doctors make errors and that even physicians can have a “bad day.”

1 Comment

  1. Merrill Goozner reports that the figure that 46% of doctors did not report medical errors is an inflated figure. Since only 40% of physicians knew of any medical errors, that means that only 18.4% (.46*.40) of physicians actually did not report medical errors. Still, conditional on the fact that a physician observes a medical error, the probability they will not report the error is 46%.

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