01:46pm Monday 23 October 2017

Stronger legal support needed to encourage transparency in patient care errors

The survey – led by Professor David Studdert from The University of Melbourne’s schools of Law and Population Health – queried doctors and nurses from around Australia with experience in conducting “open disclosure”—candid conversations with patients following adverse medical events.  Ninety percent identified legal fears as a major or moderate barrier to open disclosure.  

“When the Australian health ministers introduced a national Open Disclosure Standard in 2003 Australia established itself as a world leader in this area. But our study indicates two key things – there are some holes in the regulatory structure supporting these activities, and clinicians charged with leading this work are concerned about that,” said Professor Studdert.  

“Health professionals appear worried that if they share information with a patient about problems in care it might be turned back on them in a negligence or disciplinary case. This is unfortunate, especially given emerging evidence that openness about adverse events may actually work the other way and reduce the likelihood that injured patients will take legal action.”

The study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) this week, also found inadequate training for health professionals about how to conduct open disclosure with patients was a major barrier to open disclosure.

Professor Studdert said new laws were needed to prevent information shared in open disclosure from being used in legal proceedings. “We already do this for quality assurance work in hospitals, and this is a natural extension,” he said.  “It should ease concerns about liability risks and help encourage clinicians and hospitals to embrace this very important activity.”

More information: 

For more information contact: Emma O’Neill, Media Unit, University of Melbourne on 03 83447220 or 0432758734.


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