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To Do No Harm: Safety as a Professional Obligation

Allan Korn, MD, for HealthLeaders Media, February 9, 2011
Of all the ancient injunctions one finds while paging through the Hippocratic writings, the most profound for me is the one which admonishes physicians “to do good or at least do no harm.” In fact, the famous oath specifically calls for the physician to “consider the benefit of patients,” “give no deadly medicine,” and “abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”

I emphasize these points not to provide a history lesson, but because of the growing concern I have that safety is not yet on a par with other medical precepts like surgical technique or confidentiality.

How often have we heard the line “the surgery was successful but that the patient died?” Such deaths are not always attributable to errors in the operating room, but to post-operative infections, medical errors, and problems at home due to poor discharge instructions or lack of proper follow-up care.

To back this up, let me offer just one statistic, the consensus is that nearly 100,000 Americans are losing their lives each year in hospitals due to medical errors and many more are harmed by infections and medication-induced complications. Sadly, these deaths and injuries were avoidable. Can we prevent them in the future? Yes, I believe we can. As Chief Medical Officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, I am constantly meeting and discussing with fellow physicians and providers the need to make care safer, more patient focused and more affordable.

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1 comments on "To Do No Harm: Safety as a Professional Obligation"


Rhonda S. Bell, DBA (2/10/2011 at 10:44 AM)
Hi, Allan I admire your plea for safety to be brought back to the forefront of healthcare, especially with a history lesson. The Hippocratic writings have much fundamental value that I think we have lost in healthcare. We have focused on "hi-tech" and lost a great deal of the "hi-touch." Not that I am opposed to technology, many strides have been made to save lives. However, their does need to be a pendulum swing back to "hi-touch" to provide a balance in the safety of care. I would like to go a step further and recommend: "To Do No Harm: Safety as a Heart Obligation." Thank you so much for this article and bringing the safety and confidence in care back to the forefront of healthcare. Also, thank you for your work at BCBS and making this a global effort. Inspired and kind regards, Rhonda