The Medical Profession’s Dirty Little Secret

The medical profession in the United States is highly respected and highly compensated.  Members of the profession pride themselves on adhering to a Code of Ethics, in which the needs of the patient are paramount and those of the doctor are secondary.  If doctors adhered to those ethical principles, we would be living in a very different world.  Many of the principles are ignored on a daily basis to the great detriment of the patient.

Latest Medical Code of Ethics News | American Medical Association

The second principle in the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics, states that the physician will “strive” to report to appropriate authorities any other physician who is “deficient in character or competence . . . .”  The first thing to note is the presence of the weasel word “strive.”  A doctor is not obligated to report incompetent colleagues, only to “strive” to do so.  I can only accept cases in which the malpractice is clear.  In almost every one of those cases, the other doctors who participated in the patient’s care know that there has been malpractice and know who committed it.  I almost never encounter a case in which this knowledge has prompted someone to report the malpracticing doctor to the hospital or to the Medical Board.  Not only don’t they report the doctor who committed the malpractice, unless they need to do so to defend themselves, they won’t even admit under oath that the doctor was guilty of malpractice or somehow caused the patient’s injury.

One of the routine written questions submitted to doctors at the start of a malpractice case is whether they are contending that another doctor was guilty of malpractice which caused the harm to the patient.  At the start of the case, they always dodge this question by saying that they are still investigating the matter and will provide a supplemental answer at a later time.  If I ever settle with one of the doctors, I can count on the others to suddenly realize that he was at fault for the patient’s injury and insist that the jury take his fault into account.

Medical boards and hospital committees are not the only ones kept in the dark when malpractice injures or kills a patient.  No one is usually going to tell the patient or the family either.  It happens, but only rarely.  The Code of Medical Ethics requires a doctor “to be honest in all professional interactions . . . .”  Any fair reading of this ethical provision requires a doctor who either committed malpractice or knows of malpractice by another to be honest with the patient about why he or she was injured.  Instead, mums the word.  No one offers a reason or they engage in some medical mumbo jumbo, the import of which is that sometimes stuff happens despite everyone’s best efforts.

The Code of Medical Ethics also requires doctors to work to change laws which are not in the best interests of the patient.  Not only don’t doctors do this, they actively work to get laws passed which make it more difficult for patients who have been injured by physician malpractice to receive just compensation.

When it comes to medical ethics, the rule is not to rock the boat, but be sure everyone knows that the medical profession has this great Code of Medical Ethics.  The gap between what is practiced and what is preached is enormous.

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