Some good reflections – and some pretty horrifying examples – of medical and doctor mistakes. Conclusion strikes the right note:
Since the 1980s, there have been big movements in both reducing the number of errors doctors make and disclosing them to patients when they happen anyway. Things like checklists and electronic health records may accomplish the former, while research showing that the risk of litigation actually decreases with increasing disclosure encourages the latter. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released “To Err is Human: Building A Safer Health System,” which formulated specific recommendations for cutting down on preventable adverse events.
But there still remains the next step: a doctor recovering for him or herself.
We certainly ought to focus on reducing errors. But no matter how great the strides, mistakes will never vanish completely. Errors do not have to stem from gaps in competence to have consequences. Being tired or careless can lead to devastating outcomes. But so too can taking risks to help a patient.
“Don’t expect to be perfect,” an older doctor once advised me soberly. For doctors-in-training, the idea that we could someday be responsible for a major injury or death is an unbearable thought. We study hard and hope that will be enough. But we know in the back of our minds that it doesn’t work that way.
We can’t expect to never make mistakes. We can only prepare for how we will grapple with them.