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Should we care about the emotional impact of errors on doctors?

If you have been harmed by a doctor or other medical provider's error or negligence, you're rightly focused on how it's impacted you. You aren't likely to consider that doctor or other medical professional a victim -- particularly if you're taking legal action against them. However, the medical community has begun addressing something called the "second-victim phenomenon" and recognizing how these health care professionals are impacted when they make an error that harms someone.

Most people get into health care professions because they want to help and heal people. They take an oath to do no harm -- and they can experience real trauma when they do.

Hospitals have implemented systems to help deal with the problems of burnout and depression that can impact medical providers. Hundreds of doctors die by suicide every year. However, these systems don't always extend to addressing the impact of a serious medical error on a doctor or other health care professional.

Hospitals conduct critical incident debriefs after serious mistakes occur. After a fatal medical error, hospitals will conduct morbidity and mortality (M&M) conferences to determine what went wrong and how the error can be prevented in the future. However, they too seldom deal with the emotional impact of the error -- either on the patient or the person responsible.

As patients, why should we care about the effect of medical errors on the person responsible for it? Assuming that the error isn't so egregious that they'll never practice again, they'll be treating other patients. A doctor or nurse who's dealing with unaddressed trauma or other emotional fallout from a mistake is at risk for more errors and bad decisions.

If you or a loved one suffers harm due to a preventable medical error, it may be worthwhile to investigate the emotional state of the health care provider at fault. Were they having marital problems, issues with their kids or dealing with guilt and self-doubt after another error harmed a patient? Answers to these questions could potentially help your malpractice case.

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