Medical errors traumatize doctors and nurses

While errors made by medical professionals are known to have a profound impact on patients, a new study finds that such missteps also are a major source of trauma for doctors and nurses. 

"If the error affects the patient and his/her family, it will also have an impact on the caregivers involved, their colleagues, and even the entire service," Alexandra Laurent, head of Clinical Psychology and Psychopathology conferences at the Universite de France-Comte and one of the authors of the study, told

The study, conducted at two intensive care units (ICUs) in teaching hospitals in France, involved interviews with 40 staff members about their experiences with errors to determine the psychological implications that stem from them.

Guilt and shame were the most common feelings associated with errors in the ICU, followed closely by anxiety and fear for the patient. Twenty percent of medical professionals interviewed found themselves questioning their own professional competence, while 15 percent admitted to feeling anger toward their team as a whole. For 80 percent of those interviewed, the error remains fixed in their memories.

While most of those surveyed reported the error caused them to increase vigilance while caring for patients, the study also found more than half of the medical professionals tried to minimize the error during interviews. 

This echoes warnings about the repercussions of a "toxic culture of perfection" among medical professionals that encourages them to conceal errors, FierceHealthcare previously reported. 

A 2013 study indicates that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, making it more pressing than ever for the medical community to address the impact and prevention of such mistakes. 

Laurent suggested that the solution starts at the top, telling that creating a supportive workplace goes a long way toward encouraging medical professionals to admit errors and learn from them. 

"The seniors and heads of departments have an important role to play in this climate of confidence because it is essential that the error be discussed without fear and without fear of judgment, a reprimand or professional disqualification," she said. "An ICU culture that encourages caregivers to acknowledge and take responsibility for their errors empowers them in situations that can initially be perceived as hopeless and out of control."

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the article

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