Medical errors law will allow patients to get answers

Patients who are harmed by medical error and even those who "could have" been harmed by unintended medical events, will soon be entitled to know what happened, under New Brunswick law.

New Brunswick 2nd-last province to adopt legislation, which also gives apology protection to medical personnel

The New Brunswick Health Council announced recommendations to improve health care services in the province. (CBC)

Patients who are harmed by medical error and even those who "could have" been harmed by unintended medical events, will soon be entitled to know what happened, under New Brunswick law.

The Health Quality and Patient Safety Act will also provides protection to doctors, dentists and midwives who apologize to their patients, from having those apologies used against them in civil lawsuits.

The New Brunswick Medical Society says it should be a positive force for change, once the Department of Health finalizes the regulations that will allow the Act to be enforced.

"When an incident or a near-incident occurs in a healthcare setting, there's an opportunity to step back and learn," said chief executive officer Anthony Knight.

"And the fact that the healthcare providers involved are indemnified as a part of this process ... that should ensure there's an open and transparent way [for] information to be shared." 

Last jurisdiction

New Brunswick is one of the last jurisdictions in Canada to adopt so-called apology legislation. Quebec and the Northwest Territories don't have it, but the other provinces and territories do. 

"I think it has made a difference," said Dr. Gordon Wallace, who provides apology training to doctors across Canada.

In his role with the Canadian Medical Protective Association, Wallace also helped shape the national guidelines on how to disclose harm. 

"For patients, they want to have an understanding of what happened to them if things happened unexpectedly, if complications have occurred or an error has occurred," Wallace said.

"They don't want speculation or worse than that, silence. They want the facts and reasons."

Establish committees

Wallace said this lets physicians clear up misunderstandings.

Regional Health Authorities will have to establish committees to review reported incidents and complaints. (Martin Barraud/Getty Images)
"And if there was an error in care, they can discuss that error and apologize for it and we also encourage them to provide some information on what the physician or healthcare organization is intending to do to limit the likelihood of that event happening to another patient." 

The new act calls on the province's Regional Health Authorities to establish committees to review reported incidents and complaints. 

Margaret Melanson, the vice president of Quality and Patient Centred Care for the Horizon Health Authority is scheduled to speak to the CBC Sept. 21. 

About the Author

Rachel Cave

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.