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Medical Error 'Second Victims' Get Some Help, Finally

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, January 17, 2013

Johns Hopkins research center director Albert Wu, MD, was a San Diego house officer when a fellow resident "failed to appreciate the significance of a patient's test result. An urgent problem became an emergency in the middle of the night" and the patient had to be rushed into surgery.

The staff turned on the resident, who "bore the brunt of finger pointing and criticism" for his lapse in medical judgment, Wu recalls. 

"It became a bit of a mob, [with] bullying, with gossip, and [with] criticizing and castigating," Wu says.  The way the resident was treated, "was wrong, because he shouldn't have been the only one seen as responsible for every aspect of this patient's care. More importantly, it wasn't a good way to handle the problem."

In fact, it was quite destructive.

That was in 1987, but the incident nagged at Wu as he realized that healthcare organizations are missing an opportunity to help caregivers grapple with the emotional distress of errors and bad outcomes they see so often.

"Although patients are the first and obvious victims of medical mistakes, doctors are wounded by the same errors; they are the second victims," he wrote in a British Medical Journal article in 2000.

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5 comments on "Medical Error 'Second Victims' Get Some Help, Finally"


Disabled and in pain (9/19/2013 at 6:20 PM)
Daniel, that was so well put! The godlike status of these doctors has got to stop. Pat, and everyone else who has been harmed, I am a patient-victim as well, and I'm sorry that you're suffering. Not ONE of the employees who assisted in the surgery - that was done against my need and consent - stepped forward to speak up. I am worried about dying on the street because, thanks to this horrifically negligent, ego-drive surgeon and his complicit team, I am disabled, can't work anymore, and will die from this. The 'team' saw me after surgery , I called, emailed, and showed them the horrific way my body was maimed, yet they all sat tight-lipped AND no one notated my cries in the medical records [INVALID] as per the doctors orders, right? After all, he's the only controlling the paychecks. I know that one nurse changed jobs soon after my surgery. Was that a coincidence? I don't know. If she changed jobs because she felt badly that she participated in my butchering, then she needs to contact me and SPEAK UP. Of course doctors fabricate the reports because it's not about ethics or conscience, it's about money. So, to any medical employee who is suffering in silence [INVALID] step up and speak up NOW. Be an advocate for the human being whose body and life you helped to ruin. Daniel is right: the medical boards aren't tossing these guys out of practice. They allow the most despicable of doctors to keep operating. What is wrong with the horrible, horrible system! Get it together, medical boards. In theory, I get the idea of this article, but only in theory. In reality, people such as myself were butchered, and doctors, nurses, and other clinicians could devote their lives towards restitution, but they don't. Instead, they treat iatrogenically harmed patients as if they are disposable. Whoops, sorry (but not enough to speak up because I'm more concerned about me), NEXT! "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing."

R.M. (1/18/2013 at 11:03 AM)
I know what it's like to be the family member of someone who's had a medical mistake made on them, and a healthcare worker who's life was devastated after being accused of a medical mistake. When you're the "first victim," you have options. There are support groups, sympathy, apologies, and many people seek legal action. In the case of the healthcare worker, you are singled out, silenced, and made to feel like you can't do the job you used to love. In many cases you lose your job and ability to support yourself and family, too. Healthcare facilities need to look at adverse events as ways to improve patient care facility-wide. If one person made an error in good faith, certainly it could happen again to someone else. Punishing the employee just spreads an attitude of fear to report errors. Thank you for this important, often overlooked aspect of healthcare.

Daniel Long (1/18/2013 at 9:41 AM)
Absolutely speechless!!! I could not have been more insulted. Second victim? Hospitals are irresponsible if they don't spend MORE money for patting the doctors on the head saying "Its OK, it is the patients fault, you are still godlike, besides it will cost us money to replace you if you don't push this out of your mind and keep the money coming in" Heck with the family, we already falsified the records, they will never know, and besides, we already have the Medical Boards blessing to cover this little incident up. Here, our next customer ($$$,$$$.$$) is waiting for you. ;-) You can quote me on that. Danny Long