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With muzzle of malpractice suits, doctors and public learn nothing

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The Spotlight article “Secrecy pervades medical malpractice settlements” (Page A9, Sept. 9) addresses a serious flaw in our medical-legal system. Confidentiality clauses are effectively gag orders designed mainly to protect the medical provider. They preclude any chance of learning from the mistakes of others.

According to a 2014 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, “The Public’s Views on Medical Error in Massachusetts,” victims report medical error 90 percent of the time “to prevent the same error from happening to someone else.”

The secrecy problem is not limited to how it affects informing the public about unsafe doctors. Equally important is informing doctors about unsafe practices. Our worst medical errors become malpractice lawsuits. The least defensible of lawsuits are settled without trial, and 90 percent of settlements contain a confidentiality clause that not only hinders the healing process of the plaintiff but also assures that we physicians will learn nothing. The number one goal of the injured party is buried in a nondisclosure agreement. The same medical mistake is repeated, and more patients are harmed.

Physicians do not need to know the details of settlements or the names of the defendants. We do need to know what happened, why it happened, and how to keep it from happening to someone else.

Dr. Charles A. Pilcher

Kirkland, Wash.

The writer, a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians, is editor and publisher of “Medical Malpractice Insights — Learning from Lawsuits.”

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