Could doctors admit to “near-misses,” mistakes that were caught to increase patient safety?

    Medical errors cause close to 100,000 deaths in the US per year, and many efforts have been directed toward reducing them. A recent column in the New York Times brings attention to another issue – the near misses, when errors are made but terrible outcomes are somehow avoided.

    The column was written by Danielle Ofri, an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, and she describes an incident during her residency when she was working in the ER. She was juggling patients and admissions, and then comes what she calls “a classic eye-roller: a nursing home patient with dementia, sent to the emergency room for an altered mental status.”

    In her haste, and maybe because she secretly thought the patient didn’t need to be in the ER, she missed a very serious issue; a bleed in the patient’s head. Luckily, a radiologist caught it, and the patient was okay. But Ofri says she was so ashamed and guilty about her mistake, she couldn’t even speak about it for many years.

    Her essay calls on doctors and hospitals to admit to admit to these, to prevent future problems.

    In their weekly conversation, WHYY’s Behavioral Health reporter Maiken Scott and psychologist Dan Gottlieb discuss how doctors could deal with the shame that surrounds mistakes, and how hospitals could address them in a way that makes patients safer.

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