Errors in medicine

Clin Chim Acta. 2009 Jun;404(1):2-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cca.2009.03.020. Epub 2009 Mar 18.


Modern awareness of the problem of medical injury--complications of treatment--can be fairly dated to the publication in 1991 of the results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study, but it was not until the publication of the 2000 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, To Err is Human that patient safety really came to medical and public attention. Medical injury is a serious problem, affecting, as multiple studies have now shown, approximately 10% of hospitalized patients, and causing hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths each year. The organizing principle is that the cause is not bad people, it is bad systems. This concept is transforming; it replaces the previous exclusive focus on individual error with a focus on defective systems. Although the major focus on patient safety has been on implementing safe practices, it has become increasingly apparent that achieving a high level of safety in our health care organizations requires much more: several streams have emerged. One of these is the recognition of the importance of engaging patients more fully in their care. Another is the need for transparency. In the current health care organizational environment in most hospitals, at least six major changes are required to begin the journey to a culture of safety: 1. We need to move from looking at errors as individual failures to realizing they are caused by system failures; 2. We must move from a punitive environment to a just culture; 3. We move from secrecy to transparency; 4. Care changes from being provider (doctors) centered to being patient-centered; 5. We move our models of care from reliance on independent, individual performance excellence to interdependent, collaborative, interprofessional teamwork; 6. Accountability is universal and reciprocal, not top-down.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors* / instrumentation
  • Medical Errors* / prevention & control
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Patient Care Team
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Safety Management / methods