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The effect of human behavior on medical errors

There is no excuse for negligent behavior in any profession. It is especially dangerous in a medical facility. No matter how busy staff members are, it is important for them to follow established protocol to ensure at least a reasonable standard of care. 

A study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine identified two main types of medical errors. The first is called errors of omission, which are the ones that occur when workers fail to follow particular steps. The second one is errors of commission. These take place when someone makes the wrong decision or follows through on the wrong action. 

This illustrates the principle that medical errors are virtually 100% preventable. Because of this, Mayo Clinic and other authoritative voices in health care refer to them as “never events.” Put simply, these are events that should never have happened. While investigating how and why these events took place, Mayo Clinic found four contributing factors that result from human behavior: 

  • Unsafe actions, such as failing to understand the rules or breaking them 
  • Various existing conditions, such as fatigue and overconfidence 
  • Problems related to the organizational culture 
  • Inadequate planning and supervision 

Personal injury and loss of life are two of the worst consequences of medical errors. Another important one is the breaking of trust. Patients and their loved ones grow to distrust, not just the specific doctor but also the hospital and even traditional medicine as a whole. It can take years to rebuild this trust. Sometimes, health care professionals never get the opportunity to rebuild it at all, making the elimination of “never events” all the more important.