Doctors and nurses make mistakes, some of which hurt patients. To err is human. In fact, that’s the name of a 2000 Institute of Medicine report aiming to decrease errors in health care.
The Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), a non-profit that focuses the bulk of its work on improving patient safety, also recognizes that a patient injured by a medication error isn’t the only one hurting after the mistake. A recent newsletter and press release draw attention to the so-called “second victims” of medication errors — the healthcare workers who are involved in the error.
Healthcare workers may react with feelings of sadness, fear, anger, and shame, and be haunted by the incident. They may lose confidence, become depressed, and even develop PTSD-like symptoms.
A case in point: Kimberly Hiatt, a pediatric critical care nurse with 27 years of experience, made a mathematical error that resulted in an overdose of calcium chloride in a fragile infant. The baby died. Hiatt’s life went into a tailspin. She felt consumed by guilt. She lost her job and, despite obtaining extra training, she was unable to find work. Seven months later, she committed suicide in April 2011.
The ISMP says a culture of silence and lack of support surrounds medication errors in healthcare, and it points healthcare workers to resources to change that culture. For example, you can watch a free webinar about the second victims of medical error, produced by the Texas Medical Institute of Technology. A toolkit for building a support program for clinicians and staff is available from the Medically Induced Trauma Support Services.
If you’re a healthcare worker, what’s it like at your institution when medication errors happen? Does anyone ever hear about them? Are there mechanisms in place to learn from mistakes? Is there any structural support for healthcare workers who make a mistake?
Have you ever had to deal with a medication error or other medical error of your own? How did you cope?
Leave a comment and let us know.
—Sherry Boschert (on Twitter @sherryboschert)