Truth Shall Set Conscious Free. Ideally

Dec 17 , 2022
By Eden Sahle

Over the weekend, I encountered a disturbing incident about medical malpractice that took a baby's life and severely injured another. It occurred in a pediatric ward of a specialised public hospital in Addis Abeba known for its excellent and equipped services.

A resident medical doctor and nurses on duty allegedly forgot to check the radiant warmer device that heats and constantly maintains the body temperature of neonates.

The skin temperature is monitored by a knob attached to the body; it burns the delicate skins of the unfortunate babies, leaving one dead and another in critical condition. The physician in charge allegedly falsified a report to conceal the cause of death and the physical damage to the other infant. Luckily, the malpractice was identified by a senior medical doctor.

The resident physician was expelled from the residency program and made to face criminal charges. Apart from honouring the oath and keeping his conscious clean, it is courageous for the senior to expose his colleague.

I spoke to one of the medical doctors and close colleagues. He was shocked and traumatised for the physician's action was not what a reasonably trained and careful medical personnel would have done in the same situation.

The gravity of losing a child is unimaginable. The incident shows a grave concern for conviction and medical ethics. People are aware of the growing number of medical-related misdeeds and lawsuits afterwards. Hospitals also started taking severe measures against professionals involved in malpractice, lamenting the precaution they should follow in their practice.

Physicians that encounter a medical error or even the possibility owe patients to disclose the occurrence and explain the gravity of the harm. They must provide the necessary information to help patients and their attendants make informed decisions. They are expected to offer professional and compassionate concern towards patients harmed while in service while making efforts to prevent similar occurrences.

Doctors do not guarantee to cure a disease as they are operating under imperfect medical science, which keeps changing and improving over the years.

Nevertheless, they must take all possible and accepted steps to treat patients to the best of their abilities. This requires treating patients professionally, even in a depressed and loaded time. Their action matters the most with the severity of legal consequences they may face in case of malpractice.

Doctors are not in denial that medical errors inevitably happen to cost people's lives who would have survived had they received proper treatment. Even developed countries such as the US report millions of medical errors annually that cause wrongful deaths. Coming to our country, where a highly underdeveloped healthcare system and underpaid and overworked physicians operate, medical errors are rampant.

Both healthcare professionals and the growing number of criminal litigations testify to the magnitude of the big problem.

The Ethiopian Journal of Health Science, a publication under Jimma University, conducted an online and anonymous survey of medical professionals. It found that the most common malpractices happen during surgery, where 71.1pc reported putting the wrong patients in the theatre room. Although 59.6pc are willing to inform patients or caretakers of errors, 68pc fear backlashes endangering their well-being or subjected to verbal attacks.

However, disclosing medical errors is the right thing to do in any circumstance, legally and ethically required. Practice shows that patients and their families are more inclined to consider the litigation of medical errors if the physician fails to disclose them.

Trust is the glue that holds the doctor-patient relationship intact. Concealing or falsifying errors deeply fractures such a relationship and leads to suspicion of the healthcare system. Medical doctors might claim they are discouraged from reporting errors on themselves or their colleagues for fear of repercussions. The survey by Jimma University shows 59pc have reported facing physical or verbal assaults after reporting mistakes.

Nonetheless, medical professionals owe it to their oath to come clean and report any misdeeds. Such brevity endorses their reputations, not discredit them.

Although errors occur in any profession, medical malpractices are always consequential and irreversible as they deal with human life. Unlike other jobs, what they do dramatically impacts people's health and lives. This is one of the reasons that earned the profession more esteem than others.

At times doing the right thing may not come easy, and we might be forced to report on those we love. However, the health sector requires a high standard of individuals with morality, skill, and dedication as the doctor who brought those responsible to the hands of justice. The truth shall set everyone free.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 17,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1181]

Eden Sahle is founder and CEO of Yada Technology Plc. She has studied law with a focus on international economic law. She can be reached at

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