Tomorrow is National Patient Safety Day, a time to remember people who have been harmed while seeking care or cure. It's also a time to consider how people--patients, providers, and those who have been or will someday be patients--can improve the care delivery system and eradicate preventable harm.
Patients are infrequently the target of professionals who intend to harm them. But people, millions of them each year, are nevertheless harmed. I'm sorry for preventable harm that has occurred and sorry for preventable events that loom.
I was a hands-on clinical nurse for a long time. I don't think I've been the last person in a chain of events that resulted in harm to a patient. But I could have been, any healthcare provider could be. Clinicians frequently fly without safety nets, and it's often grace--not structure or safeguards that come when hearts, minds, and wallets open to achieve and sustain reliable processes--that distinguish clinicians with pristine records from those who err. I'm sorry for errors I may not have seen, known to report, and for near-miss events I didn't see as valuable in the fight to eradicate errors.
This morning, it didn't take me long to find a credible account detailing what patients and front line clinicians face each day. In A Nurse's Very Bad Day, New York Times health blogger Teresa Brown, leaves readers with an unflinching picture of what good people who work in, and depend upon, our well-intended but unreliable system regularly face. I'm sorry that a strong, competent nurse cries like a soldier at the end of a battle in civilian territory. I'm sorry for the risks her patients face.
The answer to how millions of people are harmed from preventable medical errors each year lies in all the tiny details that went wrong in Teresa's Brown day. These answers are not easy, cheap, sexy, or full of star power.
People, like me, who are sorry about the harm that has occurred--particularly those who seek to reform healthcare--should harness this sorrow and transform the system into something that's not so regrettable.
In the meantime, let me just say: I'm sorry. I'm so very, very sorry.