Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why Medical Errors Occur

This post isn't a cartoon.

But this blog is only for cartoons, you say. Isn't this blog called "A Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor"? you say.

Well, screw you. It's my blog and I can post what I want.

This week I officially joined the bourgeoisie: we got a cleaning woman. I mean, what else are we supposed to do with our money? Roll around in it naked? Pay for light and heat? So yes, we got a cleaning woman.

We used a service that cleaned several apartments within our large complex. I went to the rental office and signed a release saying that they could have our keys for the purpose of cleaning. Today was the first time they were going to come clean and we were pretty excited. We spent hours pre-cleaning (lest the cleaning woman think we're slobs) and we locked away our rubies and the world's largest cubic zirconia in our safe. (Just kidding. Nothing we own is worth more than $20.)

When I got home from work, I expected to see a sparkling, shining apartment. I didn't. In fact, it was exactly how I left it.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was the woman who owned the cleaning service. Apparently (and I'm a little sketchy on the details of how this happened), they cleaned the wrong apartment. The rental office gave them some random wrong set of keys and they went and cleaned some random apartment.

While I'm kind of peeved that my apartment didn't get cleaned, I can't help but be amused when I picture some other family coming home to find their apartment inexplicably got cleaned while they were at work.

In trying to figure out how such a thing could have happened, it occured to me that there were two sets of checks that failed:

1) The rental office gave out the wrong set of keys.

2) The cleaning service went to the wrong apartment, even though they knew our apartment number.

This is why I maintain that despite the number of checks that occur in a hospital, errors are going to occur. Because people are dumb.... er, error prone. And plenty of times, exhausted residents and clueless med students are doing things without having ANY checks. (Despite the fact that med students can't write orders, they can still mix up A bed and B bed and take out staples from the abdominal incision of the woman who is post-op day 1, requiring her to go back to the OR. Yes, that happened.)

You might argue that errors are less likely when it's important, such as in a hospital, when life or limb are involved. Then again, tell that to the woman who just spent hours scrubbing someone's toilets for free.

Anyway, in case you were on the edge of your seat wondering, my apartment is going to get cleaned tomorrow.


  1. We had a cleaning person for a few months. Then we decided we'd rather have the money for vacations.

    But your point is VERY valid. Errors happen. Everywhere. To all of us.

  2. Yeah, humans are error prone, no matter the field. That is why I was very comforted when my orthopedic surgeon wrote "YES" on the knee he was operating on and "NO" on the other one with a Sharpie.

  3. When I had eye surgery, they put a little dot sticky in bright orange over the proper eye. I was comforted, too. There were a lot of other people in there also getting eye surgery.

    Too bad they didn't come to my house by mistake! We could surely use the help.

  4. Thats the perfect way to explain to the common-man who keep blaming doctors for anything that goes wrong... but yea, like u said, since life and limb are involved there are more checks and then rechecks too to take care. But, as it is said- 'to err is human' and so far the docs are humans! :)

  5. Exactly! But, then, people rarely ever look at it this way. If you are a doctor, you've to be picture perfect - that's what they demand. One slight mistake and all hell breaks loose.

  6. I really need someone to mistakingly come to my house and clean!!

  7. "Despite the fact that med students can't write orders..."

    At the hospital where I did my IM rotation (which, by the way, was the first of my third year), they had never had medical students before, so every order that we wrote got done without our attending's approval. Talk about a lack of checks!

  8. I am offended by this post. So let me make sure I understand: The title is "Why Medical Errors Occur" and your answer is something like "because they just do." Would this analogy work for airlines?

    Your attitude is all to common among your peers.

    Medicine could be such a force in the movement towards safer, more efficient healthcare. Instead you don't even acknowledge that we have a problem.

    If you aren't going to help at least get out of the way.