Everybody’s human, but when a doctor makes a mistake, it can be more important than in most other professions. The head of bio-medical ethics at the University of Iowa says doctors who make medical mistakes need support from their peers, because their work is so important it can be hard to admit any error.
He says there have been proposals that instead of a “malpractice system,” there should be professional bodies that make determinations about whether there was willful negligence in a case, or just human error or an accident that could happen to any of us.
Doctor Lauris Kaldjian heads the program in Bio-Medical Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Iowa, and says there’s a “culture of perfectionism” in the field of medical training. While it emphasizes doing your very best, that can also make it very hard to accept your weaknesses as a human being , Kaldjian says. He points out doctors set out to make people better, not worse.
“In fact, of course, diseases and accidents are the cause of the death of every human being in a sense,” Kaldjian points out, adding that that means the stakes are high. Doctors need support in such a high-pressure job, and he says it would help to have peers look over their work, and their decisions.
“What was the disease, what was an acceptable complication, what was an accident, what was actually negligence?” He says the answers aren’t always cut and dried, and that’s why his research has found physicians sometimes have a hard time disclosing things to patients, “because sometimes they’re not sure that what happened was actually a mistake.” He says the medical profession needs to work on telling the difference between a doctor’s honest mistake, and mistakes that happen when professionals are knowingly negligent.
Kaldjian, who’s studied ethical decision-making in patient care, has published two reports this year on medical mistakes and the dilemma doctors face over admitting and apologizing for their errors.