How hospitals' 'culture of secrecy' keeps error victims out of the loop

A "culture of secrecy" within healthcare often prevents the victims of medical malpractice from getting the full picture, according to a report from Cleveland-based ABC affiliate WEWS-TV.

While hospitals closely monitor medical errors, the nation's third-leading cause of death, they seldom give patients and the public access to detailed information about them. For example, when Donald Adanich, a dental implant surgery patient, had medical gauze he swallowed during the procedure left in his stomach for three weeks last year, Adanich's wife, Lyn, told ABC neither of them were informed. She found out independently when it was mentioned in her husband's VA medical records, which were reviewed when they sought a second opinion. Immediately after the surgery, Adanich became sick, eventually dying last August, six months after the procedure.  

The ABC report found that while hospitals must report any major disciplinary actions against physicians to the National Practitioner Data Bank, 2,210 of which were reported in Ohio last year, it is illegal to publicize the names of the subjects or their employers. "There's no way that the public can go online and find out that, for example, the doctor you're thinking of asking to be your doctor has had payments made 150 times in the last year," Maxwell Mehlman, director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western Reserve University, told ABC.

This culture has become a hot topic against the backdrop of the ongoing scandal within the Department of Veterans Affairs; a report from the department's Office of Inspector General found that in 2012, the Cleveland VA Medical Center was investigated for up to 15 patient deaths tied to a single surgeon, who eventually resigned. Mehlman said anxiety over lawsuits is one of the top factors in hospitals' opaque approach, but noted that research has found an apology from providers reduces the likelihood of such a suit. The convoluted process of determining who is financially responsible for medical errors is also a major factor, FierceHealthFinance previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the report (autoplay video)