Please Discuss: Should Doctors Who Make Mistakes Be Punished?

A patient who had an operation made things very clear…” credit=”Ian Turton/Flickr CC

The latest “Invitation to a Dialogue” feature in The New York Times opinion pages stems from a question posed by the former chief of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Paul Levy. It begins:

The tendency to assign blame when mistakes occur is inimical to an environment in which we hope learning and improvement will take place. But there is some need to hold people accountable for egregious errors. Where’s the balance?

Read the full invitation here; brief responses are due by Thursday to letters@nytimes.com, and the dialogue will be published in the paper’s Sunday Review. If you send your response to the Times but it is not chosen, please consider sending it to us by clicking on “Get in touch” below, and we can post our own compilation.

My two cents: Doctors have incredibly hard jobs and when one messes up — makes an honest mistake of the type I described in this recent post on misdiagnosing ectopic pregnancy — I don’t think they should usually be punished. It’s a powerful argument that punishment will merely lead to cover-ups rather than improvement. However, from the patient’s perspective, I think I have the right to know about these errors, by name, and what disturbs me is that there is so little accessible information on the most important aspects of medical quality — including which doctors mess up more than others.

Readers? Background reading:
True Transparency: Doctors Who Admit Errors, And How To Help Them
Oops! Mass. General Surgeon Openly Admits Performing Wrong Surgery

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