Are Doctors Serious About Reducing Medical Errors?

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Preventable medical errors remain the  third highest cause cause of death in the US – following heart disease and cancer. They claim the lives of 400,000 Americans every year. In the following TED talk, Boston surgeon and public health researcher Dr Atul Gawande talks about the World Health Organization (WHO) approaching him to research possible methods of reducing avoidable surgical deaths.

What Gawande discovered was that the role of doctors has failed to keep up with the increasing complexity of medical technology. Prior to the discovery of penicillin in 1945, most patients who were ill enough to be hospitalized died. Occasionally a courageous doctor would save a patient with heroic and/or revolutionary treatment. This caused doctors who were daring “cowboys” and “pioneers” to be sought out and rewarded.

In the new millennium, Gawande argues, amazing new technologies, rather than brilliant doctors, are saving patients. Although the increasing complexity of medical technology requires ever larger medical teams, the health system is still oriented around the skill and expertise of individual doctors. We’re still relying on the brilliance of individuals. What we really need is pit crews.

Gawande approached the challenge WHO gave him by looking at other high risk professions, such as skyscraper construction and aircraft manufacture. He wanted to see what they did to reduce the risk of avoidable errors.

He was inspired by the checklists Boeing uses at every stage of manufacturing – for key details that can get forgotten. He developed a similar series of surgical checklists, which he tested in a dozen different countries. The checklists reduced complication rates by 35% and death rates by 45%.

Gawande published his remarkable findings in the New Yorker in 2007 and in a 2009 book, The Checklist Manifesto.


Seven years later the majority of hospitals and surgical teams refuse to implement Gawande’s checklists –  for reasons he fails to specify. Apparently their responsibility in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of patients isn’t sufficient to inspire change. I must admit this mystifies me.

photo credit: MilitaryHealth via photopin cc


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7 COMMENTS

  1. wjabbe: The cancer doctors (oncologists) make a ton of money off administering chemo and raidiation among other treatments. Imagine the number of doctoros put out of business if a cure was found? There are cures for cancers out there they just won’t release them for this very reason. Imagine, just like when the car makers left Detroit, cancer cures would be unleashed to the general public’s knowledge. Imagine that!
    There is much scamming the public involved with medical care today. Heck, Oblundercare is of such quality, it had to be sold to the public based on a series of well-placed lies. I want to write a book about it from the top to the bottom, but it would be two thousand pages. Don’t take everything as the gospel from a doctor if you have your family in the hospital. Remember there is a time limit on what your insurance will cover. It has very little to do with the severity of condition. You are right though, they have complete invasion authority over their patients and family members. I would steer clear of them or have someone stay 24 hours with patients. Ask hundreds of questions, read about the illness you’re dealing with, and know you blind trust in them is so easily abused violated. They will lie to you like this president lies to us.

  2. Because the almighty doctor has complete unaccountable control and dominance over you, any one can get admitted for no reason. If you have good insurance, they will undoubtedly milk it for all it is worth. When you could go home, they will admit you and drum up a reason no matter how minor.
    It has always been my contention, that, the emergency room doctors should not know whether or not the patients have medical insurance. If you are sick and need admission it should not matter. Thus, if you are not sick and could go home, having insurance should not be the reason. ER doctors are not there to generate revenue to the hospital, similar to a cop being given a “ticket writing quota” every month to earn some dough for the town or city so the police chief can get his raise.
    Anyway, won’t bore anymore. Thank you Dr. Bramhall. I only wish the citizens knew the fraudulence, the betrayal of your trust. What goes on behind those closed ER or ICU doors would astound you.

  3. I’ve awaited more responses to your column here, and I am sad there has been just these four. Medical errors are a direct threat to you, and to the vast majority of you, it is very possible someone within your own family or a friends or neighbor has been a victim of such a blunder.
    Anesthesiologist or the anesthetist harm many with their overdosing. An elderly person cannot overcome the large unnecessary doses.
    ER doctors aren’t too bad, but the ones to watch out for are the ones who are getting your family member who has no doctor, and being admitted for “overnight” observation. The accepting doctor may not come in to see them since hospital policy in many areas allows 24 hours before they have to come see them.
    Because you are not aware of many policies and ways of doing things, the R.N. gets put “on the spot” when this happens.
    After the adoption of Oblundercare health care, many hospitals have opted for new nurses fresh out of school instead of the experienced acute care nurse. don’t think because you or your family members are in the ICU, you have competent and seasoned medical staff. Your docs give orders or refuse over the phone during the night according to what the nurses tell them. If the nurse doesn’t know what they are talking about, no one will pay more than the patients. I have seen this happen numerous times, and it is sad. There is more. I just wish readers would tell their experiences. Good article!

  4. After spending many years in emergency rooms and intensive care units, I can honestly say, the mistakes are covered up in paperwork and scapegoating nurses. The mistakes are horrendous. The doctors have ultimate control and authority over patients. They spend the least amount of time with those patients. Nurses get verbally degraded for calling doctors in the middle of the night to correct a sudden problem. Doctors refuse to come in because they don’t believe a problem exists and berate the nurse for summoning them-even those on-call for physicians group. Great majority of doctors blame the nursing staff for their own errors, as in the Ebola case way down in Dallas as the emergency doctor did. He blamed them for not telling him the man had just returned from overseas. I’ve experienced numerous times where the doctors knew their negligence and guilt but conveniently avoided looking at me and apologizing for their behavior or delays. Many times I wanted to yell right back at them. Once I invited a physician out to the helicopter pad so I could kick his behind for killing an innocent trusting patient on new years eve, then telling the wife. After his grand “mistake”, he slithered up to the wife outside the ICU and told her, HE did all he could to save her husband. Little did she know. There is much more but word constraint limits it. It is your uncaring, disinterested and arrogant physicians people in the vast majority of cases. Behind those closed doors, ahem!

  5. i would agree americans are to blame for much of our lemming like propensity to willingly leap to our own deaths with eyes valiantly shut tight. this does not, however, excuse the establishment and it ignores the fact that just like every other establishment or institution, it has been infiltrated and taken over by the same sick deluded souls we call the cabal, illuminati, nwo, etc. i have little sympathy for those who refuse to think for themselves, but neither do i excuse the establishment… both are to blame.

  6. I think that many of the deaths being blamed on the doctors might be more accurately attributed to the patients. Americans are under the impression that every little ache or pain requires medical treatment. How many of these deaths occur during unnecessary surgery? All I have to do is turn on my TV and watch them advertising medicines for discolored toe nails whose side effects include permanent maiming and instantaneous death. Yet Americans queue up for these “medications” just like they queue up for unnecessary surgery. What is euphemistically called marketing is in reality mass murder especially in the case of medicine.

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