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Op-ed

Doctors can and should learn from their mistakes

While no doctor wants to make a mistake, they if they acknowledge them, they can learn from them. That’s the conclusion of researchers who reviewed the notes of one of Johns Hopkins Hospital’s groundbreaking neurosurgeons Harvey Cushing.

Cushing documented his own surgical mistakes and made suggestions for preventing them in the future. The researcher say, in the February Archive of Surgery, that the open documentation may have helped spur groundbreaking medical treatment advances back then. They could also do the same thing today.

"Acknowledging medical errors is evidently something that doctors identified early on as critical to advancement a very long time ago," said principal author Katherine Latimer, a medical student at Hopkins School of Medicine, in a statement.

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She and fellow researchers looked through the archives for notes on 878 patients that Cushing treated between 1896 to 1912, and they picked 30 to explore. (Apparently, he had terrible handwriting and used lots of abbreviations).  They included such things as operations on the wrong side of the brain, dropping instruments into surgical wounds, lacking enough or appropriate tools.

Malpractice lawsuits were a growing concern back then and were a threat to doctors' reputations. But the researchers believe Cushing thought innovating and fixing problems was most important, so being upfront about his shortcomings was necessary.

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Dr. Alfredo Quinones, a Hopkins associate professor of neurosurgery and senior author of the study, said that medical errors still have a huge impact on patients and their families and recognizing them can lead to better patient care.


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