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Medical errors: Who’s to blame?

Posted: December 1, 2015

(December 1, 2015)

By: Adwaa Qutub, Hamilton Spectator

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Isn’t it questionable that they rarely blame a pilot for a plane crash, but they always blame doctors for any damage in the hospital? Medical errors only draw the public’s attention when it causes death or filing a lawsuit. Nonetheless, the aim should be to inhibit the source of those errors. Over and over again, it seems that the blame always gets back at one of the medical staff. Although doctors, nurses, lab technicians, radiologists are well educated, that does not seem enough to prevent them from making mistakes. Is it then a human error or a system failure?

Here in Ontario, on a regular day basis doctors work ten hours and sometimes more. In addition, they have to be on-call (doctors will be present overnight approximately twenty-six/thirty hours to run the hospital). Reading more about on-call protocols; apparently the more experience you have, the less on-call duties you get. Each on-call team has two to three medical students, two junior residents, one senior resident and one attending; however, it varies by speciality. Attending’s on-calls are home calls. They get called if there is a complicated situation or urgent surgery while the rest of the team runs the hospital overnight. Most of the procedures, interventions and surgeries, happen during working hours. Usually, complications and side effects appear overnight. They expect doctors who have less experience and partial training to deal with it! It’s like if we had a morning flight, the pilot and his co-pilot would fly it together, but if it were a night flight then we should accept the co-pilot to fly it alone! Isn’t this a system failure! How can a person be awake for this long and have limited training no commit a mistake! Where is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to defend them before attacking and blaming them for their errors?

“Ontario’s hospitals are living in almost a permanent state of crisis having been pushed by years of cuts into levels of overcrowding that are dangerous to both patients and staff,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. Ontario’s population is around thirteen million. Meanwhile, there are one hundred fifty-five hospitals that operate to serve two hundred thirty-eight sites. If we divide the population by the number of sites, each site will roughly serve around 55,000 people. If only three percent of those people got sick at the same time, the site would reach its maximum capacity. Which is the real scenario in most sites! Overload capacity is leading to first, longer waiting hours in the emergency room. Usually, the practice in the emergency department is to prioritize the most urgent patients first. What about patients who don’t have a clear severe injury? Their evaluation will be delayed while they might be suffering from internal complications that could be life threatening, but they have been pushed back due to the absence of symptoms and signs. Second is the lack of beds issue. Surgeries/Procedures will be postponed, and it may take up to three days to get a bed in the ward for patients who have been seen in the emergency department. Bed availability is crucial to prevent errors such as late diagnosis, treatments and surgeries. These complications are in the system’s hands, not the individual’s.

“There is no single medical intervention that will ever save as many lives as patient safety improvement,” says Don Berwick former Medicare administrator. How can we improve patient safety? It takes lots of accomplishments before anyone can work at a health care institution. The probability of irresponsible medical staff exists but it is odd. Careless mistakes, overconfidence mistakes and consecutive mistakes they all play a role in medical errors. Even though those are important factors that caused some of the medical errors, the responsibility is on the medical association as a whole it is not caused by individuals only like it seems. The system must balance everything correctly. Considering the framework, the doctor’s abilities, the hospital equipment and availability. The strategies must be regularly reviewed, as medical technologies advance the health care system must be further advanced too.

Adwaa Qutub first year student at McMaster University in Humanities program.

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