It’s easy to be snarky. I confess that when I posted this story last November about a Mass. General surgeon who admitted performing the wrong operation on a patient and analyzed why, my headline began “Oops!” But the truth is, of course, its incredibly courageous of doctors to admit their mistakes publicly, to break the medical omerta.
The topic is timely today because of a new Harvard study finding that most doctors will face a malpractice lawsuit at some point — and interesting work under way in Massachusetts to encourage medical apologies. The Patrick administration, too, supports making admissions and apologies easier. And the American Medical Association’s amednews.com has just posted an inspiring piece on three doctors who came clean before their colleagues, including Mass. General’s Dr. David C. Ring and Dr. Jo Shapiro of Brigham & Women’s.
The piece begins with a heartbreaking story of a Seattle nurse whose dosage miscalculation led to a baby’s death — and to her own suicide. (A recent study found that doctors have about double the usual suicide rate to begin with, and major medical mistakes triple their suicide risk, amednews reports.) And the piece ends with some of the efforts, in Boston and elsewhere, to help medical staffers who have made errors:
Supporting physicians when things go wrong
Few physicians talk publicly about their medical errors, but a growing number are benefiting from programs dedicated to helping doctors deal with the emotional turmoil that often comes in the wake of adverse events.
Jo Shapiro, MD, helped start the Center for Professionalism & Peer Support at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in October 2008. There are 55 physicians and other health professionals at the hospital trained to offer emotional support to peers involved in cases of patient harm.
“When there’s any kind of adverse event that we hear about, one of us will make an outreach call to the physician involved,” Dr. Shapiro says. “We ask them simple questions like, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling? Is there anything I can do to help you?’ ”