Pediatricians may not tell parents when they make a mistake in a child’s care. The Institute of Medicine issued a report several years ago documenting widespread hospital errors. In the aftermath of this eye-opening analysis, health professionals called for more transparency regarding medical errors. A more recent study revealed that medication errors affect as many as one out of fifteen hospitalized children. How often are parents advised of such mistakes?
A study suggests that many pediatricians are unlikely to reveal errors. The scientists surveyed more than 200 pediatricians and asked what they would do in two hypothetical scenarios: one in which a child got the wrong dose of insulin, and one in which a laboratory result was overlooked and the child was hospitalized as a result. Most of the respondents felt that these errors would be serious and that they would feel responsible.
Approximately half of them said they would definitely tell the parents about the problem; about 40 percent thought they would probably tell the parents, and about 7 percent said they would talk about the mistake if they were asked a direct question.
Doctors were more likely to disclose an error if they felt the parents would already be aware of it or if it was quite obvious. They were also more likely to apologize in that case. Even when pediatricians were willing to reveal a mistake, they often indicated that they would leave some details out. Not revealing medical mistakes is an ethical violation. It also makes it more difficult for hospitals to change procedures so that similar errors become less likely in the future.
[Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Oct. 2008]