Medical Error 'Second Victims' Get Some Help, Finally

Cheryl Clark, January 17, 2013

Johns Hopkins research center director Albert Wu, MD, was a San Diego house officer when a fellow resident "failed to appreciate the significance of a patient's test result. An urgent problem became an emergency in the middle of the night" and the patient had to be rushed into surgery.

The staff turned on the resident, who "bore the brunt of finger pointing and criticism" for his lapse in medical judgment, Wu recalls. 

"It became a bit of a mob, [with] bullying, with gossip, and [with] criticizing and castigating," Wu says.  The way the resident was treated, "was wrong, because he shouldn't have been the only one seen as responsible for every aspect of this patient's care. More importantly, it wasn't a good way to handle the problem."

In fact, it was quite destructive.

That was in 1987, but the incident nagged at Wu as he realized that healthcare organizations are missing an opportunity to help caregivers grapple with the emotional distress of errors and bad outcomes they see so often.

"Although patients are the first and obvious victims of medical mistakes, doctors are wounded by the same errors; they are the second victims," he wrote in a British Medical Journal article in 2000.


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