Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes | Reader's Digest

Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists hold your life in their hands. Here, their shocking stories of what can go wrong—and what has to improve to keep us safe.

By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest | October 2010

Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes
“It was more than 20 years ago, but it still haunts me,” says Bryan E. Bledsoe, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. “I made a mistake that may have cost a woman her life.”

Bledsoe’s oversight, which you’ll read about later, has driven him throughout his career. To this day, he is an outspoken advocate for health care safety, teaching physicians-in-training to treat patients as individuals, not as numbers at a deli counter. It sounds like an obvious message, but an overemphasis on speed is just one of the reasons that, every day, Americans in hospitals around the country are injured or die because of a medical error. “Any physician who says he or she never made a mistake is a liar,” Bledsoe says.

The problem of avoidable medical error burst into the news in 1999 when the Institute of Medicine published To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. Highlighting an estimated 98,000 unnecessary deaths every year, the report inspired a patient-safety movement—but over a decade later, not nearly enough progress has been made, say many experts.

What’s still needed: more thorough approaches to investigating errors, support systems that help doctors admit to and learn from their failings, and better methods of adopting proven solutions. In the meantime, people are still dying needlessly.

“If we don’t talk about the problem of hospital error, there’s no way to fight it,” says Peter Provonost, MD, PhD, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, whose own father died because of medical errors at age 50. “Whenever I’ve worked up the courage to share a personal mistake, my colleagues listen raptly. But most don’t say anything, even though I know they’re just as guilty. The culture of medicine still won’t allow it.”

But that’s changing. When Reader’s Digest first considered approaching health care professionals to ask them to confess their biggest mistake, we worried that few would speak up. We were wrong.

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists all stepped forward. Each of these professionals welcomed the chance to say “I’m sorry”—and, more important, to address the weaknesses in the health care system that continue to make errors like theirs possible.

Read their stories and see if you, too, don’t entertain some hope that a better, safer health care system is on the way.

  • Your Comments

    • Happy Place

      I like a National Healthcare System

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rod-Venger/747469101 Rod Venger

      These doctors are horrible and their confessions do not absolve them of anything. I pity the pharmacist that took the fall or his tech’s error, but he was the supervisor…as for the nurse, God protect us from nurse-managers. No person can be intimidated or threatened unless they allow themselves to be. Nurses are like wolves, pack animals looking to protect each other from outside forces. The alpha nurse, the manager, like all others before her, used to be just a normal, hard working nurse. Once tapped for management, they lose all their humanity, working not for the good of the patient but for the good of the system. No surprise that this one lines up with a union. The pack can never be wrong nor accused of being wrong for they have all the fangs. That’s convenient when it comes to laying blame for someone’s untimely death.

    • Change is slow

      While I appreciate this article, there are many flaws in the system, just mentioned a tad in this article that could have books written on them, such as the intern system…the voices say it needs to change, but those who made it through perpetuate it. Right now it is nearly impossible to change. Or that Geisner systems improperly implemented give a physician incentive to hide the source of re-admission, and that going to another facility doesn’t mean the truth will come out, as doctors protect each other as a means of protecting themselves. Its a deep rooted complex topic, and those with advocates fare better in terms of protecting themselves from mistakes, but fare worse in terms of the backlash from the medical community, not just during their immediate care but any care related or not, afterwards.

    • CTG

      Obama Care is the best thing any President has ever put in place. Try getting insurance with pre-existing conditions – it is IMPOSSIBLE! You either get totaly denied coverage or they place riders and still charge prices so high you cannot afford the coverage. You need to do your research or try walking in someone elses shoes when you cannot get medical help!

    • CTG

      Obama Care is the best thing any President has ever put in place. Try getting insurance with pre-existing conditions – it is IMPOSSIBLE! You either get totaly denied coverage or they place riders and still charge prices so high you cannot afford the coverage. You need to do your research or try walking in someone elses shoes when you cannot get medical help!

    • Davekyguy

      Wait till Obamacare cuts the Dr.s pay and starts rationing care.

      They are going to save money all right, just like they did when they stole 500 billion from Medicare.

      • Bill

        Nonsense. Pure dittohead rubbish. You’re statement are wrong and taken just as fox misrepresented the,m.

        “Obamacare” rationing healthcare? You mean like the current HMO’s do? Why do you think this country is moving towards a nationalized healthcare system? Because of the corrupt insurance providers!

        Turn off fox and raise your IQ.