HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) becomes one of the first Canadian health institutions to formally adopt a disclosure policy. The hospital will let patients know when medical errors are made or when unplanned outcomes of procedures occur.
While the MUHC acknowledges that medical errors are inevitable and may occur under conditions ordinarily associated with good results, the newly adopted disclosure policy obliges the MUHC to inform the patient, family or patient representative at the earliest possible moment, of the details concerning a significant unexpected incident that occurred during treatment. Full disclosure is based on the patient's right to know as well as the MUHC's desire to learn from these incidents and improve care. The MUHC will advise patients of a medical error even when the error has been corrected and the patient is no longer harmed.
"This is a very important initiative because the MUHC has a moral and ethical duty to let patients know when an error has occurred," said former provincial health minister Claude Forget, Chairman of the MUHC Board of Directors Committee on Quality. "Failing to disclose errors undermines public trust in the health care system."
In the U.S. it is estimated that medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 patients each year. No estimates are available for Canada, but a study is underway to determine the number of medical errors made in this country.
MUHC hospitals have always been vanguards in this area. The Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal Children's Hospital adopted disclosure policies in 1989 and 1990 respectively. The current policy applies to all MUHC hospitals.
To raise awareness and to give clinicians a better understanding of the new MUHC disclosure policy a Quality Awareness Week is being held from November 19 to 23. Various talks will be given about quality management and increased safety in health care at the different MUHC sites.
Also, Dr. Philip Hébert, MD, PhD, CCFP, Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto will be the keynote speaker during a full day seminar entitled Disclosure and Safety. He will discuss Error: Law versus Ethics. Dr. Hébert has reviewed Canadian jurisprudence, which has established that doctors have a legal duty to advise patients of medical errors. He will also discuss a study in the U-S, which shows that malpractice claims are reduced when hospitals let patients know when medical errors have been made.
As well, Michéle Beauchemin Perreault, the public's representative on the provincial Comité ministériel sur les accidents évitables dans la prestation de soins de santé, will talk about the importance of a disclosure policy from a patient's perspective. Her daughter died in hospital and the coroner's report determined that a medical error was responsible for the 28-year old's death.
The seminar will be held at the Montreal Neurological Hospital on Wednesday, November 21 in the Jeanne Timmins Amphitheater the seminar starts at 8:15. M. Forget will speak at 8:15 followed by Mme. Beauchemin at 9:15 then by Dr. Hébert's at 10:15.