Learning To Keep Patients Safe In A Culture Of Fear

Thu, 03/11/2010 - 1:13pm
Pauline W. Chen, M.D.

One afternoon during my training, I watched as one of my closest friends, another surgery resident, was led into the office of the department chief. A week earlier she had been on call when a patient developed a rapid and irregular heart rhythm. He became unconscious and would have soon died if my friend had not stepped in and resuscitated him.

Her intervention, I thought, really proved her mettle.

But there had been a misunderstanding that night about the timing of one of the medications administered. Questions turned into a heated discussion between my friend and a nurse, and what should have been cause for celebration quickly turned into a blistering debate. The next morning, my friend found herself the subject of an “incident report,” a form that hospital workers can use to report accidents. The nurse believed my friend had committed malpractice by ordering the medication too quickly, despite her saving the patient’s life.

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