4 common pitfalls to avoid after a medical error

How healthcare organizations respond to medical errors has greatly evolved in the last few decades. Transparency and accountability have emerged as key tenets of this process, aligned with hospitals' efforts to build a culture of safety and continual clinical improvement. 

A panel of oncology leaders discussed the best and worst things one can do after a medical error during a Sept. 10 session at the Becker's Clinical Leadership Virtual Event. Panelists included:

  • Camille Applin-Jones, RN, vice president of ambulatory care and clinical services for Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanante's Northwest market

  • Nirav Patel, MD, CMO of University Medical Center New Orleans

  • Teri Sholder, chief quality officer of Hospital Sisters Health System in Springfield, Ill.

  • Lisa Schilling, RN, vice president of quality, safety and clinical effectiveness at Stanford (Calif.) Healthcare 

Here are four excerpts from their conversation, lightly edited for clarity. To view the full session on-demand, click here.

Question: What are some common pitfalls or things hospitals should avoid in the aftermath of an error?

Dr. Nirav Patel: We recently had an event where there was an eagerness to disclose the wrong error. What happens is that we want to be very transparent. We want to support the family.  However, the error we disclosed was not what had happened. A totally different mistake had been made. That's even worse for the family when you have to go back to correct that. They're trying to process the first event in the first disclosure, and now they feel like, "Well, you're changing the story. There's a cover-up. There's something else." I think it's important that the disclosure occur, but that a reasonable, fair investigation is also performed to assess what is the true error that has occurred. 

Lisa Schilling: One of the worst things you can do is just say, "Well, that's a known complication, and the person's fine, so no worries." Brush over it. I personally appreciate the physician leaders who will say, "That should just never happen, and even though it's known to happen, let's just figure out how we can prevent it next time." I had one physician leader once say, "Giving people blood is a trigger for harm, so why did you have to give somebody a unit of blood? Was there something that could've been done better?" Having a mindset of pursuing perfection rather than dismissing something that happened is important.

Camille Applin-Jones: Another tendency we have as clinicians or healthcare leaders is to want to immediately solve the problem. We make an assumption about the error and then quickly apply a solution to that assumption. That can actually create more errors and increase failure and reduce morale for your people. It's really essential to be clear about what the problem is and then solve for that. I would encourage everyone not to have a knee-jerk reaction, so to speak, back to Dr. Patel's points about really completing the root-cause analysis to ensure that we understand the actual problem. Failure modes and effects analysis is another great strategy. It's also important to enlist the feedback of those who were engaged in the error to begin with as part of the problem-solving, which is a step that is sometimes skipped.

Teri Sholder: I totally agree, Camille. People tend to want that immediate resolution. You have the algorithm in place, but it's human nature to just want to jump to, "Oh this is this outcome, or this is that outcome," when actually walking through that algorithm is the very thing that makes you question, "Well, wait a minute, could it have been this?" It just brings other variables to light, and a lot of times you'll find that it really was a system problem.

Copyright © 2024 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.


Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars