When doctors feel pain after a medical mistake

January 28, 2013 by MassDevice

Too many patients suffer harm instead of healing in U.S. medicine. That’s why ProPublica’s reporters have investigated everything from deadly dialysis centers and dangerous hospitals to the failure of state boards to discipline incompetent nurses.

Medical providers are often referred to as the

Medical providers are often referred to as the "second victim" of medical mistakes. (iStock photo)

by Blair Hickman, ProPublica

Dr. David Ring, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and board certified orthopedic and hand surgeon, once performed the wrong surgery on a patient's finger. Ring quickly noticed and fixed his mistake, but it was one of the worst experiences of his life, he told ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen in a 2011 interview.

Sometimes doctors or nurses who cause harm to a patient are the perpetrators: They're careless, negligent, taking on too many cases because they're greedy, sloppy or incompetent. But often this is not the case. A well-meaning, expertly-trained provider makes an honest error and feels deep remorse.

Sign up to get our free newsletters delivered straight to your inbox

Plus, there are often extenuating circumstances that contribute to the mistake. In Ring's case, a series of events contributed to confusion in the operating room that day. As Allen noted:

• The nurse marked the correct arm, but not the incision site.

• Surgeons were behind schedule, so people were stressed.

• The nurse who prepped the patient for surgery wasn't present for the procedure, because the patient had been moved to a different operating room.

• The nursing team changed in the middle of the procedure.