Medical errors and medical culture

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7312.570 (Published 08 September 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:570

There is no easy way around taking responsibility for mistakes

  1. Laurie Lyckholm (lyckholm@vcu.edu)
  1. Department of Internal Medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University, Box 980230, Richmond, VA 23298-0230, USA
  2. Dalhousie University, Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 2Y9
  3. Carreg Wen Surgery, Blaenavon, Gwent NP4 9AF
  4. Wrexham Maelor Hospital, Wrexham LL13 7TD

    EDITOR—The case commented on by Singer, Wu, Fazel, and McMillan is chilling in that the patient died in pain and suffering, and in the way it was handled by the senior attending physician—swept under the carpet, information falsified, and given a high minded sort of dismissal with “let this be a lesson.”1 That is almost obscene.

    The commentaries addressed most of the important points except discussing the fear of litigation and the fact that there are no easy answers when it comes to making mistakes. That needs to be said outright lest someone, especially someone in training who is less experienced, think that admitting a mistake stops at quality control or sharing responsibility, and that there is then some way around the difficult task of actually taking responsibility for the mistake.

    Within the culture of medicine and even more broadly in modern society there seems to be a drive for finding the easy way out. In this case there is none, and it needs to be made very clear that this is a defining moment in the life of a physician with regard to integrity and professionalism. That must be included in the discussion of how a supervising physician deals …

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