A recent study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital confirmed exactly what I have seen time and time again in my 21+ years of handling medical malpractice cases in NY and Pennsylvania: there is a HUGE conspiracy of silence in the medical field.

Doctors, nurses, hospitals and their insurance companies circle the wagons to deny that there are any problems or that anyone ever made a mistake. Despite clear evidence of medical errors in the chart, despite clear evidence of a Dr who has screwed up on MANY prior occassions, most often no one is reprimanded, no one is fired, the mistake just gets swept under the carpet…..

A great blog post by Eric Turkewitz from N.Y.C. , an experienced medical malpractice attorney, had this to say about the report:

A study released today [12/3/07] shows that almost half the nation’s doctors fail to report unethical, incompetent or dangerous colleagues. According to the study by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 46% of doctors admitted they knew of a serious medical error that had been made but did not tell authorities about it.

Some of the data from the survey:

Up to 96 percent of those surveyed said they should report all instances of significant incompetence or medical errors to the hospital clinic or to authorities. The exception was among cardiologists and surgeons, with just about 45 percent agreeing.

Why cardiologists and surgeons are more prone to cover-ups isn’t something I know, but I’m certainly curious about the answer.

There was also a disconnect among doctors about what they felt should be done, and what they actually do:

While 93 percent of doctors said they should provide care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, only 69 percent actually accepted uninsured patients who cannot pay.

In 2000, the U.S. Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 people die every year because of medical errors in hospitals alone.

And so, while some states have been doing what they can to encourage apologies for errors (see: More Doctors Encouraged To Say “I’m Sorry”), there are still many doctors that feel burying the mistakes is better.