Debra Beaulieu, October 6, 2016
A shift away from the “cowboy culture” of medicine is underway, but there’s still work to do in preparing clinicians to behave appropriately when things go wrong.
A retired surgeon recently confessed in a newspaper column that he perjured himself to protect a colleague during a medical malpractice trial nearly two decades ago. Lars Aanning, MD, published his column last month and then provided an interview to ProPublica.
Maybe the most shocking part of his “I lied” bombshell is that it’s not so hard to believe.
Doug Wojcieszak, who endured the death of a family member due to medical errors, is well-versed in how ill-prepared physicians have traditionally been when handling medical mistakes.
Wojcieszak founded Sorry Works! in 2005, on the heels of this personal medical malpractice crisis. The organization encourages clinicians to apologize to patients and families after adverse events.
“There is a better way,” Wojcieszak wrote in a blog post following Aanning’s confession. “It’s called disclosure and apology. We’re making great progress, but, let’s not fool ourselves. Dr. Aanning’s column is a stark reminder of the deeply embedded culture we are trying to change.”
I recently spoke with Wojcieszak about this issue. The following transcript has been edited.
HLM: This incident occurred nearly 20 years ago. Why is this kind of thing still so prevalent today?
Wojcieszak: I think this type of behavior still occurs, and has occurred for so long, because for clinicians there’s an information vacuum for dealing with issues post-event. They haven’t been taught what to do when they make a mistake; they’re scared.
They’re relying on rumors and advice from colleagues who don’t know better than they do.
It’s like putting a little league team on a field and saying, “We’re not going to practice. The kids will figure it out.” It doesn’t work that way for players or for doctors.
HLM: Physicians are held to such high professional standards. Are they still undermined by the culture of medicine?
Wojcieszak: It’s fear of the unknown. Part of our work is to pull the boogeyman out of the closet and debunk the myths.