Article Abstract

Complications: acknowledging, managing, and coping with human error

Authors: Sevann Helo, Carol-Anne E. Moulton

Abstract

Errors are inherent in medicine due to the imperfectness of human nature. Health care providers may have a difficult time accepting their fallibility, acknowledging mistakes, and disclosing errors. Fear of litigation, shame, blame, and concern about reputation are just some of the barriers preventing physicians from being more candid with their patients, despite the supporting body of evidence that patients cite poor communication and lack of transparency as primary drivers to file a lawsuit in the wake of a medical complication. Proper error disclosure includes a timely explanation of what happened, who was involved, why the error occurred, and how it will be prevented in the future. Medical mistakes afford the opportunity for individuals and institutions to be candid about their weaknesses while improving patient care processes. When a physician takes the Hippocratic Oath they take on a tremendous sense of responsibility for the care of their patients, and often bear the burden of their mistakes in isolation. Physicians may struggle with guilt, shame, and a crisis of confidence, which may thwart efforts to identify areas for improvement that can lead to meaningful change. Coping strategies for providers include discussing the event with others, seeking professional counseling, and implementing quality improvement projects. Physicians and health care organizations need to find adaptive ways to deal with complications that will benefit patients, providers, and their institutions.

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