Human Error and Medical Malpractice

James P. Carey - SiebenCarey "Know Your Rights" AttorneyFebruary 20, 2014

The simple solution to a complex question.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, surgeon Atul Gawande tackles the question of how medical professionals deal with the increasing complexity of their responsibilities. 

He begins by making the distinction between errors of ignorance (mistakes we make because we don’t know enough), and errors of ineptitude (mistakes we make because we don’t make proper use of what we know). 

Gawande says failure in modern medicine is almost always about the second of these errors – leaving the sponge behind after surgery, administering the wrong dosage of medicine or operating on the wrong body part. 

Gawande offers a simple solution to deal with the complexity of modern medicine: checklists. 

Checklists, of course, have long been part of other professions. In aviation the checklist dates back to 1935, when the Army Air Force was conducting a fly-off to choose its new bomber. Boeing’s entry, the B-17, was favored to win the contract, having swept all preliminary evaluations and far outperforming the competition. 

Shortly after take-off, however, the plane stalled and crashed. It was determined that the pilot, one of Boeing’s most experienced and accomplished, had forgotten the routine step of releasing the elevator lock prior to take off. Following the crash, Boeing’s test pilots put their heads together and came up with the industry’s first formal checklist. 

So while checklists are routinely used by engineers, product managers, pilots and others, checklists have not been embraced by the medical community. Dr. Gawande speculates that perhaps doctors, who spend years to learn their profession, find the idea of checklists demeaning to their practice. What they do cannot be reduced to a series of check boxes. 

But Dr. Gawande points out that where checklists have been implemented in hospitals and surgical suites, the incidents of human error has plummeted. Unfortunately, the consistent discipline of using checklists in the medical field remains the exception rather than the rule. 

Our decades of experience in the area of medical malpractice confirm what Dr. Gawande says. We’ve found that even the most brilliant and accomplished medical professionals can cause grave injury to patients by failing to perform a routine task or asking the patient a basic question. 

If you have been injured by a medical professional, call us to review your legal rights.

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