Jul 9, 2009

Errors Take a Toll on Patients AND Providers

Hey everyone, me again. This blogging thing is addictive.

Another great article from Dr. Pauline Chen in the New York Times. It talks about the toll that errors take on physicians, specifically young physicians-in-training, but I suspect that the phenomenon applies to all health care providers in all fields.

The thrust of the article is that when a physician makes an error it can send him in a downward spiral of more errors, depression, and questioning of self-worth. If I might opine, I think it's the fear of making another mistake that drives this vicious cycle. As a fourth-year med student, I am so close to being thrown head-first into the scary world of residency. And let me tell you, despite a fantastic training in med school and even a good deal of confidence in what I know, I'm terrified that I might hurt one of my patients without the constant supervision I've had in med school. A single mistake threatens to prove my worst fears -- that I really don't know what I'm doing! Raise your hand if you feel the same way.

How can we fix this? Is it better training? Is it simulation? Is it a more welcoming environment? Dr. Chen gives the very vague suggestion that the system -- patients and our teachers -- need to re-calibrate their expectations. But what, really, does that mean? And will that alone work? Share your thoughts in the comments.

- Alexi

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