Ethics in the Pediatric Emergency Department: When Mistakes Happen

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The emergency department (ED) is an environment that is conducive to medical errors. The ED is a time-pressured environment where physicians aim to rapidly evaluate and treat patients. Quick thinking and problem-based solutions are often used to assist in evaluation and diagnosis. Error analysis leads to an understanding of the cause of a medical error and is important to prevent future errors. Research suggests mechanisms to prevent medical errors in the pediatric ED, but prevention is not always possible. Transparency about errors is necessary to assure a trusting doctor-patient relationship. Patients want to be informed about all errors, and apologies are hard. Apologizing for a significant medical error that may have caused a complication is even harder. Having a systematic way to go about apologizing makes the process easier, and helps assure that the right information is relayed to the patient and his or her family. This creates an environment of autonomy and shared decision making that is ultimately beneficial to all aspects of patient care.

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