Experts: Medical schools aren't teaching patient safety

Rather than teaching future doctors about patient safety, teamwork and how to learn from their mistakes, medical schools throughout the U.S. continue to focus myopically on basic science and clinical knowledge. Patient risk, in turn, looms as a major problem, a new report from the Lucian Leape Institute at the National Patient Safety Foundation concluded.

"Medical school and teaching hospital leaders should place the highest priority on creating learning cultures that emphasize patient safety, model professionalism, enhance collaborative behavior, encourage transparency, and value the individual learner." So reads the first of 12 recommendations highlighted in the report.  

Various experts in the field of medical education and patient safety, including some current medical students, comprised a 40-member roundtable that helped to create the report, titled "Unmet Needs: Teaching Physicians to Provide Safe Patient Care." They determined that effective interpersonal skills and the "science of improvement" can be just as important as the basic concepts that have been taught at med schools for generations.

"[E]ach physician who fully grasps the multiple dimensions of patient safety is one more physician likely to find humility in the challenge and therefore likely to provide safe care to his or her patients," the report says. "Even more important, each such physician will have the potential to be a much-needed leader who, in collaboration with others, can help develop positive organization cultures and patient safety regulations."

One of the main catalysts to this continued behavior is the cycle of power wielded by doctors, according to the report. Not only are physicians rarely questioned by anyone at a hospital, let alone students, but that power is often used to degrade and dispirit students in misguided attempts to "mold" them, a pattern that continues with each new class of doctors. 

"The science content-packed curriculum reinforces these frameworks [that doctors are often at the top of a medical hierarchy] by its emphasis on the acquired knowledge and primacy of the individual physician and his/her judgment," the report reads. "This leaves little room in the curriculum for developing the skills, attitudes, and behaviors needed for collaborative practice and for the provision of safe care."

To learn more:
- here's the report, including the 12 recommendations
- read this press release