Errors take a toll on doctors who make them

Times Staff Writer

Mistakes that harm patients are hard on healthcare workers too.

A survey of more than 3,000 doctors, reported in the August 2007 Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, found that doctors lost confidence, were anxious about future errors and had trouble sleeping and reduced job satisfaction when they had been involved in a medical error. Only 10% said they thought their institution provided adequate support following an error.

"There's a real culture in medicine where the expectation is that you're supposed to shrug mistakes off and keep rolling forward," says Dr. Thomas Gallagher, professor of medical ethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and lead author of the study. That just doesn't happen. He also found that up to 20 years after being involved in an error that led to patient harm, doctors were still visibly upset when talking about it.

"We have begun to learn not to blame doctors and nurses," says Dr. Donald Berwick, president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. "They're doing their best. These are highly stressful jobs, and people feel battered."


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