The topic of medical mistakes brings fear into the hearts of physicians. Alongside images of lawyers and angry patients is the weight of guilt and self-doubt. That fear can contribute to burnout and emphasize the downside of medical practice to the detriment of the positive components. Although it is an unpleasant topic, it is important to be prepared for the inevitable.
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Helo and Moulton provide an educational guide to prepare you to handle the unfortunate day when you realize that you made a mistake.
Helo Sevann, Moulton Carol-Anne E. Complications: acknowledging, managing, and coping with human error. Transl Androl Urol. August 2017;6(4):773-782. doi:10.21037/tau.2017.06.28.
It distinguishes between:
- a complication – a situation where standard treatment had a bad outcome
- a mistake – a situation where a choice was made that led to a negative outcome that is potentially permanent and life-threatening
The article reiterates the risk of:
- hoping the patient doesn’t notice
- cutting the patient out
- not accepting the mistake as an error
These responses to medical errors are not just ineffective, but also counterproductive and self-harming. Ignoring the error is not a strategy. The article further helps to outline a strategy to accept that mistakes occur and to guide the physician toward:
- better communication
- expressing heartfelt compassion for the patient
As a medical professional, you need a thoughtful plan that has the best chance of keeping your internal ethics and self-confidence intact while also allowing the patient to understand the situation fully and to know that someone will listen to their concerns.
Medical mistakes are a daunting prospect in your medical career, but they don’t have to be insurmountable. Simulated conversations based on scenarios where a mistake may be a useful way to develop and practice these skills. For our Clinical Encounters platform, we are creating a simulation experience to help medical students recognize, respond, and recover from a medical mistake. The case will develop and enhance the important conversational and care-provision skills associated with responding to a medical mistake.
Our Clinical Encounters Platform provides a solution for the broad ecosystem of educators to create and medical students to experience case-based learning. In the Clinical Encounter Learner experience students interact with patients based on data and written dialog and make care decisions from diagnosis to consultation. Cases mirror pleasant and unpleasant patient encounters, the cognitive challenge of diagnosis, and ethically challenging situations where the process of care limits the ability to act in the patient’s best interest. The simulation helps the learner assess if a conflict exists and offers a means to resolve the conflict or simply to acknowledge it. The reader application is available for PC, Tablet and Phone.
Keep in mind that the stress of mishandling a mistake or the fear of making a mistake contributes to burnout. You can impact these stresses if you have a plan before a mistake occurs.