As a member of society, we are all faced with moral and ethical dilemmas on a daily basis. Most of us want to do the right thing and want others to do the same, but we have also been conditioned to believe that being a “tattletale” or a “snitch” is a negative course of action, so we do what we can to stay in our own lane. However, there are times when the only ethical thing to do is to report what you have seen or what you suspect, regardless of the consequences.
Medical professionals are mandatory reporters. This means that any time you suspect abuse of a patient, you are obligated to share that information with the proper authorities. You do not need to collect evidence to make this report, but providing any information that you obtain in the course of treatment that will assist in an investigation is the ethical thing to do. Each state has its own process for reporting abuse of children or adults, so ensure that you are well-versed in the procedures and follow them properly for the safety of your patients.
Reporting medical errors is important to both the safety of patients and to ensure that problematic situations do not repeat themselves. Errors should be disclosed to both the patient and to any higher authority who may need to investigate, defuse, or correct a situation. While in some cases, there is a risk of consequences to such errors, these could be even more severe if an error is discovered and it was apparent that it was known and unreported.
Suspicion of Criminal Acts
If you have reason to believe that someone within your office or unit is participating in some type of criminal activity, reporting that suspicion is extremely important. You may notice controlled substances or medical supplies running out a bit faster when a certain person is working. Someone may be using or sharing sensitive patient information that violates HIPAA or puts a patient’s identity at risk. Or there may some other unscrupulous activity taking place. Protect yourself, your practice, and your patients by reporting what you have seen or heard to the proper person of authority.
There are many things that may cause a medical professional to make poor decisions and sometimes it is simply a case of misguided assessment or a simple bad call. However, if it seems that a coworker or colleague has been frequently making dangerous mistakes, reporting their judgment issues is critical. They may be going through a personal crisis that is causing them to overlook important tasks or information, or it could be a case where they have reached a place where they no longer can make the right call for their patients. Ensuring that someone is aware and taking action will create a better situation for patients and help them to avoid mistakes that could cost them in the long run.
While sometimes it can be a tough call whether to allow people to make their mistakes and learn from the natural consequences, these situations ethically require you to step in and take action.