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How the medical field's culture may perpetuate medical errors

March 13 through the 19 is National Patient Safety Week and an opportune time for hospitals and individual health care providers to reflect on ways to improve patient safety and care. Statistics related to medical errors prove that there's much room for improvement as, annually, an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of medical mistakes. Despite the fact that medical errors remain the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., many within the medical field struggle with how to address the issue.

Some contend that a major part of the problem is the medical field's entire view of and approach to medical errors. The vast majority of health care professionals admit to, at some point or another, making a mistake that caused a patient to suffer harm, injury or even death. However, despite the prevalence of medical errors, many health care institutions and professionals refuse to openly discuss the topic or provide support to those employees and colleagues who are impacted.

Consequently, a significant percentage of doctors and nurses who commit medical errors are forced to deal with the professional, emotional and mental repercussions on their own and often without any support or understanding. A 2009 study that appeared in the Journal of Quality and Safety in Health Care found that 68 percent of doctors and nurses who were involved in patient safety investigations experienced extreme sadness, while 65 percent reported having difficulty concentrating. Additionally, 55 percent of respondents reported falling into a depression and 45 percent experienced problems sleeping.

In the wake of a medical error, the primary focus should obviously be on the patient and his or her family members. Attention must also, however, be paid to the doctors and nurses who are involved in an incident and not just in terms of how they should be reprehended. After all, these doctors and nurses must often still see and care for patients and failing to address the mental and emotional struggles they experience in the wake of a medical error only serves to promote a culture of secrecy around the subject which ultimately jeopardizes patient safety.

Source: Vox Media, "Fatal mistakes: Doctors and nurses make thousands of deadly errors every year. They are reprimanded. Do they also deserve support?," Sarah Kliff, March 15, 2016

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