Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Listening to patients is not enough

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 02 June 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j2670
  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

When taking a medical history, doctors (at all levels) must ask the right questions

A senior house officer working nights in an emergency department examines a 13 month old girl shortly after 5 am. Over the past few days, the patient has had a raised temperature and vomited three times. She has passed urine and opened her bowels. She has no rash or diarrhoea, and she looks well. The diagnosis is an upper respiratory tract infection. The senior house officer discharges the patient.

Later that day, the girl’s condition worsens, and she is readmitted to hospital. She is diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis and suffers permanent brain damage. The parents sue the hospital trust.

The senior house officer did not record why the parents brought their daughter to hospital. The …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription