Health care workers as second victims of medical errors

Pol Arch Med Wewn. 2011 Apr;121(4):101-8.


Introduction: "Second victims" are health care providers who are involved with patient adverse events and who subsequently have difficulty coping with their emotions. Growing attention is being paid to making system improvements to create safer health care and to the appropriate handling of patients and families harmed during the provision of medical care. In contrast, there has been little attention to helping health care workers cope with adverse events.

Objectives: The aim of the study was to emphasize the importance of support structures for second victims in the handling of patient adverse events and in building a culture of safety within hospitals.

Methods: A survey was administered to health care workers who participated in a patient safety meeting. The total number of registered participants was 350 individuals from various professions and different institutions within Johns Hopkins Medicine. The first part of the survey was paper-based and the second was administered online.

Results: The survey results reflected a need in "second victim" support strategies within health care organizations. Overall, informal emotional support and peer support were among the most requested and most useful strategies.

Conclusions: When there is a serious patient adverse event, there are always second victims who are health care workers. The Johns Hopkins Hospital has established a "Second Victims" Work Group that will develop support strategies, particularly a peer-support program, for health care professionals within the system.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*