Unfortunately, physicians run a high risk for encountering medical error at some point within their careers. The looming possibility of medical error can be incredibly stressful, as medical errors adversely affect patients, often leading to malpractice suits and other reputation-damaging results for physicians. According to a StatPearls article, medical errors are a leading cause of death in the US. Despite the frequency of such occurrences, there appears to be neither a consistent cause of medical error nor a consistent strategy for reducing the chances of commonly recurring errors.

The article suggests two types of classifications for medical error, the first being errors that take place due to inaction, or omission. For instance, forgetting to strap a patient into their wheelchair would be an error of omission. The second type of error takes place due to a wrong action, or commission. Examples of this include situations like ascribing a laboratory specimen to the incorrect patient or administering the wrong medication to a patient.

‘Even the Most Brilliant Doctors Err’

According to Antonio Dajer, MD of New York’s Weill Cornell Medicine, the term “medical error” is actually a misnomer that discounts all of the factors entering into a medical case. Dr. Dajer notes that everything from rare, unexpected findings, to time pressure, to unforeseen distractions can yield suboptimal outcomes. Realistically, it is impossible for doctors to dodge unwanted outcomes every single time throughout their entire careers, for they are, nonetheless, human. Even the most brilliant physicians err.

In a StatNews article, Dr. Dajer mentions his frustration with the lack of safe spaces in which physicians practicing in certain states can talk about medical error. In particular, states like New York, Florida, and California are under the jurisdiction of gag laws that force doctors to keep quiet in medical error discussion.

Establish “Quiet Zone’ for Organizing Medications Prior to Administration

One example is New York State Education Law 6527, which requires hospitals and healthcare facilities to examine potential errors with the assistance of peer and quality review committees, while also restricting any person connected to the incident to speak about it. People involved in the medical error are also not permitted to be at investigative meetings. Dr. Dajer finds these policies to be both oppressive and counterproductive, noting that allowing the erring physician to discuss what happened will allow them, and others, to learn from the situation and potentially prevent such an error from recurring.

According to the StatPearls article, doctors are best served to take certain preemptive measures that can improve their chances of avoiding medical error. For instance, physicians should take time to accurately label all administered medications, and they should establish a “quiet zone” for organizing the medications prior to administration.