Mistakes happen in any profession. Some mistakes are less costly than others. For instance, a shop employee may do a poor job wrapping your present, or your barber could give you a terrible haircut. Other mistakes can have a higher cost. The poor design or miscalculation of an architect can result in the collapse of a building. Your mechanic might make a mistake that can end up setting your car on fire. That’s probably an exaggeration; if your car bursts into flames after you visit your mechanic, he probably did it on purpose. Physicians are people just like everyone else, despite people often forgetting it.
Medicine is one of these fields where mistakes can cost lives. A wrong treatment or dosage, a misdiagnosis, or any other mistake can result in serious complications for the patient. There are a number of factors that can lead to a doctor making a mistake. There are also numerous ways to prevent this.
One of the mistakes a doctor can make is misdiagnosing a patient. This can happen if the case was atypical and too complicated, and, in this scenario, the mistake is somewhat acceptable if the consequences aren’t too serious. Another reason is a doctor may not be paying attention to his/her patient. If you’re not listening carefully to your patient as they speak and miss important information, that’s definitely on you. A physician may simply be incompetent and not very knowledgeable, which will lead to guessing the diagnosis. Of course, a wrong diagnosis will start the domino effect of medical mistakes. A wrong diagnosis will mean wrong investigations, which will cause unnecessary spending and, eventually, the wrong treatment, which may have side effects.
Wrong treatments or dosages can be lethal, as well. Prescribing penicillin to a patient who is allergic to it can lead to anaphylaxis and, ultimately, death, if the patient isn’t injected with epinephrine in time. Prescribing drugs that are metabolized in the liver or kidney in the presence of kidney or liver disease will lead to the accumulation of these drugs in circulation, reaching toxic levels. Did you ask if your patient has bronchial asthma before prescribing beta blockers for their hypertension? As we know, beta blockers can exacerbate bronchial asthma. Imagine a patient trusting you to treat them, but instead, the treatment you gave actually makes them worse. How would you feel if that happened to you? This can happen because a doctor didn’t ask for an adequate history or take the necessary precautions. Of course, if a patient is unaware of a penicillin allergy, there’s no way for the doctor to know.
As previously mentioned, there are many consequences for the patient, but a doctor doesn’t walk away unscathed after making a mistake either. For starters, if the patient passes away, the doctor has to present the case at a morbidity and mortality conference. In this conference, a doctor describes the case and the steps taken. The panel at the conference can find the doctor guilty of being the reason the patient died. In this case, the doctor will be punished. Another consequence for the physician is getting sued by the patient. These consequences can lead to a doctor losing their license to practice medicine temporarily or permanently, or even going to jail. A doctor who commits a mistake owes it to their patient to confess that mistake and be upfront about it. Statistics have shown patients are less likely to sue a doctor if he/she was honest and told them about the mistake. Statistics also show patients are less likely to sue doctors they like. Don’t abuse the fondness your patients have for you, though.
Burnout is a major issue many doctors suffer from, which can lead to more mistakes. Burnout consists of three main symptoms: exhaustion, depersonalization, and a loss of feeling personal accomplishment. These are measured using a questionnaire called the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and the people who created it describe burnout as “an erosion of the soul caused by a deterioration of one’s values, dignity, spirit, and will.” A doctor who suffers from burnout will not be at their best level when it comes to doing their job.
I’m sure we’ve all suffered from burnout at some point or another. Perhaps during finals when you just felt like you couldn’t even look at another page, or during the performance of any task. I’m sure all professions suffer from burnout, but the pressure of being a doctor is greater than most, so burnout is more severe, more common, and has more consequences. Up to 75% of residents suffer from burnout, and this is a massive percentage if you think about it. Doctors may even feel suicidal. It’s necessary to find ways to avoid and treat burnout and suicidal tendencies so they don’t affect a doctor’s work. It’s been stated that a doctor who suffers from burnout no longer sees patients as people who need him/her, but as enemies. How can a doctor perform his or her duties if they feel this way?
A doctor needs to have a positive outlook on life and find ways to stay fresh in order to avoid burnout. Knowing how to separate your personal from your professional life can help. It’s the same as not studying in bed, because your mind automatically associates bed with stress, which will stop you from sleeping in it. When a doctor goes home, he or she needs to disconnect from all the stress and medical pressure and find ways to have fun alone or with family and friends.
This can be done with the help of a few hobbies that can help relieve stress and take a doctor’s mind off things. These hobbies can include writing, which is something many doctors take a liking to. Writing enables you to let go of all the thoughts building up inside your head and put them on paper. This allows you to self-reflect and will greatly relieve stress.
Reading non-medical books can also help. Getting lost in the work of Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, and other great authors will transport you to a different world and temporarily make you forget all the responsibilities you have.
It’s also very important for a doctor to stay in good health. Don’t let your busy routine get in the way of breakfast, nor push you to eat junk food for lunch every day. It can be hard to find time to cook and prepare meals, especially if you live alone, but feeling healthy will make a huge difference. It’s also important to exercise and follow the advice you give to patients all day and night. Exercise will release endorphins from your body and you’ll feel much better. It’ll also give you the stamina to work all day without feeling too tired.
Of course, it’s essential a physician be up to date with all that’s new in medicine and know his/her science really well in addition to being an excellent clinician. There is no excuse for causing your patient harm just because you’re negligent. It will cost you a lot.
Doctors err just like everyone else in the world. They are from this world, after all, even if people forget it from time to time. Of course, it can’t be expected their mistakes will be forgiven so easily, especially since being a doctor is such a vital and sensitive job. It is important for the medical system to provide the optimal work environment in order to allow doctors to work efficiently. Less paperwork, for instance, can make the job less routine and less boring. Doctors also need to learn how to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally, in order to stay at the top of their game.