study examines the degree to which surgical errors affect mds

Most people who make a critical mistake at work have the luxury of putting it behind them and starting out fresh the following morning. However, there are people employed in certain professions where this simply isn’t an option. For example, when a surgeon has an off day, the surgeon can’t ignore what happened; rather, he or she must face the reality that the mistake has likely resulted in life-altering or potentially fatal consequences for the affected patient.

Interestingly, a recently released study in the British Journal of Surgery examined just this issue, measuring the extent to which medical errors affect surgeons on both a professional and a personal level.

Here, the researchers conducted extensive interviews with 27 vascular and general surgeons with at least three years of experience and all of whom had experienced some type of “surgical complication.”

They made the following determinations:

  • 21 surgeons indicated that the surgical complication directly affected their behavior.
  • 18 surgeons indicated that the surgical complication directly affected their surgical practice.
  • 15 surgeons indicated that the surgical complication left them with feelings of guilt.
  • 8 surgeons indicated that the surgical complication resulted in a loss of confidence.
  • 6 surgeons indicated that the surgical complication resulted in their worrying about patient care.

Factors influencing these reactions were found to include everything from the patient outcomes and preventability of the complications to responses by colleagues and workplace culture.

“Surgeons are typically regarded as more tough-minded than other health care professionals and there is indeed some evidence that this is the case,” reads the study. “The present study found, however, that there is a considerable variation in both the nature and the severity of reactions to complications, with some surgeons being much more affected than others.”

The study concludes with the authors suggesting that surgeons in these situations should be provided with a multitude of beneficial options designed to help heal their personal and professional psyches, including peer mentoring, additional surgical training and psychological counseling.

While these suggested options could certainly prove to be valuable and help a surgeon return to form, it’s important not to forget the people who were on the operating table. They too have suffered significantly and may not ever be able to heal completely from either a physical or a mental standpoint.

In these situations, those responsible for surgical errors must be held accountable, while victims must know that speaking with an experienced and understanding legal professional can help this happen.

Source: FierceHealthcare, “Study: Medical errors affect surgeons personally, professionally,” Katie Sullivan, Nov. 14, 2013

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