Physician "culture of perfection" keeps medical errors high

Reducing medical errors means rethinking a culture that encourages doctors to conceal them, argues a doctor at Bellevue Hospital Center at New York University, MedCityNews reports.

"We need to undo a toxic culture of perfection when it comes to medical error," Danielle Ofri, M.D., author of "What Doctors Feel--How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine," said at TEDMED 2014 in the District of Columbia, according to the article. Ofri admitted that she failed to report an error she made while training to be a physician. If the healthcare culture doesn't change, Ofri said, fear of repercussions for errors will continue to drive doctors to hide medical mistakes rather than report them.

Hospital medical errors are now the United States' third-leading cause of death, costing as many as 400,000 lives a year, far higher than the numbers in the seminal 1999 report "To Err is Human," FierceHealthcare previously reported. These numbers should drive demand for "overdue changes and increased vigilance in medical care to address the problem of harm to patients who come to a hospital seeking only to be healed," wrote researcher John T. James, Ph.D., of Patient Safety America.

In April, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released a report putting the annual number of deaths from medical errors at 325,000 and asked more than 200 Golden State acute care hospitals what steps they take to reduce these errors. In July, she released an update indicating progress on this front, due to strategies that encourage transparency, such as peer review committees for individual errors and weekly "harm reports," FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Fear of inviting malpractice suits is a major obstacle to changing this culture, according to the MedCityNews article. Individual states attempt to solve the problem by establishing best practices for adverse events. For example, Pennsylvania established a Patient Safety Authority, while other states passed laws to allow doctors to express condolences for adverse outcomes without an admission of guilt.

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