When Mistakes Happen

 In Blog

I’m not perfect. Shocker, right? Here’s another one: you aren’t, either. No one is.

We’re this very frail thing called “human.” And as humans, we’re going to make mistakes. Duh, right?

You all know the work I do with health care institutions. Hospitals will invite the Marcus message in to inspire health care professionals to new levels of excellence in patient care. But ya know what? Mistakes are still going to happen. It’s just sad that, when a person is fragile enough to be in a hospital, they are far more likely to be the recipiants of infections than a person just walking down the street. And that’s just infections. Never mind the place that human error plays in medical mistakes. The good thing is that patient safety is now at the forefront of most hospital’s vision. And, you can probably guess this just because of the amount of hospitalization I’ve been through, I, too, have had a couple of medical mistakes under my belt. Two come to mind; one where I overdosed on morphine, the other where I picked up a hospital born infection. Both could have been deadly. But, again, when you’ve been through the ringer for months on end, it’s almost impossible to think it’s going to be smooth sailing throughout the journey.

The thing is, as soon as a medical mistake happens, people get scared. And by people, I mean hospital personnel. And with good reason. Flip on the TV or read through your spam and there are personal injury lawyers who are trolling for clients. And this isn’t a rant against personal injury lawyers. Lord knows they are a necessary and vital part of our society when something goes truly, truly wrong. But, in this litigious country in which we live, there are some unscrupulous folks who try to get patients/people to find a problem that may not even really exist. This has left the medical/health care community gunshy of honest, authentic dialogue.

I have a friend who recently had a major medical mistake caused by a health care professional’s inability to listen to her post op. That’s all I really need to say about it since it’s her life, the mistake she’s had to live with and I did not ask her permission to tell this story. You can also call this HIPAA.

The last time we talked, I asked her a simple question: “Did anyone apologize to you for the accident?”

Yes, apologies were made, but they never again saw the health care professional who was the cause of the mistake. Hence, no apology from the person who actually caused the accident. I wasn’t present, but I’ve gotta imagine there was fear on the part of that health care pro: fear of the family stringing him up by his toenails, fear of being fired, fear of being sued personally. Did the hospital admin intervene and ask this person not to apologize for fear of making a bad situation worse? Likely, but again, I don’t know. And, truth be told, if this health care pro’s inability to listen to his patient caused a horrible mistake, he may not have the social/communication skills to adequately apologize.

Yet? My friend still wanted an apology from him. And she did not receive it.

As I work with hospitals, the word “transparency” comes up more and more. This is precisely the opposite idea of running scared for fear of being sued. As soon as a mistake happens, the hospitals are now immediately getting involved, doing their own investigation and actually admitting the mistake happened. And then? The most important thing of all: they apologize. And they acknowledge they should have done better. And they ask what the patient wants and needs to rectify the situation. Some hospitals are even going so far as to contact personal injury lawyers with the patient who has experienced a medical mistake. That, faithful reader, is a stand up institution and one I’d be proud to work for.

Why is it so hard to apologize? Even when we know we’ve done wrong? Whether it’s liability or fear or shame, it’s not healthy or helpful. We are all going to make mistakes. We are human. When mistakes happen, medical or otherwise, please be that stand up, authentic person who admits wrong was done. I think you’ll be surprised at how forgiving people can be if a heartfelt, “I’m sorry” is said as soon as possible after the mistake.

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