3 Physicians Come Clean About Medical Errors to Change Culture of Blame

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Three physicians have spoken out about medical errors they have committed during their career in efforts to change the culture of shame and depression that is often associated with medical errors, according to an American Medical News report.

According to a January study published in Archives of Surgery, physicians commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population every year. In addition, physicians who blame themselves for a medical error are three times likelier to consider suicide than other physicians, according to the research.

Despite succumbing to seclusion or secrecy, three physicians have come out about their medical errors to help other healthcare professionals understand the phenomenon of "second victims" and use their experiences as learning opportunities.

David Ring, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, performed the wrong surgery on a patient. A serious of miscues and miscommunication led to the incident, which was immediately remedied with a correction surgery. Instead of staying mum on the experience, Dr. Ring, at the risk of hurting his reputation, hosted a conference at the hospital to assess the incident with other healthcare experts.

"I knew that the biggest mistake of my life and the worst event in my life was also an opportunity," Dr. Ring said in the American Medical News report. "In my role as a teacher and mentor, if I make a mistake in diagnosis, a mistake in surgery or a mistake in judgment, it's always been a teaching opportunity. There's always been something to discuss. It's not something to sweep under the rug."

Bryan Bledsoe, DO, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Nevada School of Medicine, admits his dismissive attitude led to a patient's untimely death due to a misdiagnosis. In addition to using his experience as a learning opportunity in class, Dr. Bledsoe has also come out in an interview with Reader's Digest. Jo Shapiro, MD, chief of otolaryngology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, approached her experience as a second victim in a similar manner. After a patient suffered from a complication stemming from one of her surgeries, Dr. Shapiro spoke about the incident at a patient safety conference.

"We have to understand that, despite our best efforts, things will not always go well," Dr. Shapiro said in the American Medical News report. "The public needs to understand that, and healthcare providers need to really integrate that into their way of thinking. I'm just one of many people to say, 'We're going to tear down the wall of silence, and let's just talk about it.'"

Read the American Medical News report about second victims.

Related Articles on Medical Errors:

Colorado Nurse's Suicide Draws Attention to "Second Victims" of Medical Errors
Healthcare Providers Affected by Adverse Events Request Emotional Support, Peer Support
82 Physician Organizations Urge CMS to Allow Review of Physician Quality Data Before It's Made Public

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