How do you define a good doctor? Is it one known to have never made mistakes or one who made them, learned from them and got better?
This came to mind as I was watching a video where Dr. Brian Goldman, an emergency room physician in Toronto and host of CBC Radio’s White Coat, Black Art, discusses the shame and embarrassment doctors feel when they make mistakes. They can’t share this with colleagues because it makes them uncomfortable and they can’t share it with patients over fear of getting axed or sued.
In the video, Goldman says a baseball player with a 400 batting average is a legend, but if you applied that 4-in-10 success rate to a surgeon, what would they be called? There are no statistics to denote a good surgeon or doctor.
While a problem-free health-care experience is an ideal for all of us, in the Toyota Production System whose principles are making their way into hospitals, no problem is a problem. With a problem at hand, you can find out the root cause(s), developing countermeasures and mistake-proof the process so it won’t occur again. This goes for living, breathing human beings, too. It’s even more important that we talk about mistakes without any guilt or shame. The more we talk about them, the more we’ll be able to understand the reason behind our mistakes and fix the problem by cutting to the root cause.
Many hospitals have started having nurses report any errors they make during their shifts anonymously or openly into a reporting system. The nurse manager then works with a risk manager to address the incidents. Medical and surgical errors are addressed to a certain extent in the peer review and morbidity and mortality forums, but this is still a hush-hush affair.
Doctors get their education in one medical school but eventually work in a new organization with completely new systems, equipment and culture. A resident might not want to wake up their consultant in the wee hours, instead dealing with it on his or her own, but if the right decision isn’t made, there’s fear nurses and other ancillary staff may be judgmental. Doctors are expected to be perfect – patients choose those they haven’t heard anything bad about. That’s likely the case, however, because no one has ever reported anything.
It’s about time that we accept that doctors are human beings and we can, like everyone else, make mistakes. Create an environment where we can openly speak about our mistakes so that it will help with the greater good, helping patients become healthy and lead a quality life.