Surgical error: ethical issues of adverse events

Arch Surg. 2000 Nov;135(11):1359-66. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.135.11.1359.


We all recognize and accept that adverse events occur with some frequency in surgery and that all departments meet regularly to review them. Since adverse events and "mistakes" have the potential for delaying recovery and injuring surgical patients, an ethical mandate exists to do all that can be done to prevent harm. This article suggests that there are 5 issues within the practice of surgery that have inhibited improvement in quality: (1) inadequate data about the incidence of adverse events, (2) inadequate practice guidelines or protocols and poor outcome analysis, (3) a culture of blame, (4) a need to compensate "injured" patients, and (5) difficulty in truth telling.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Protocols
  • Data Collection
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Intraoperative Complications* / epidemiology
  • Medical Errors* / statistics & numerical data
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Postoperative Complications* / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / statistics & numerical data
  • Truth Disclosure