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Dealing with unexpected healthcare incidents

Prevention in medicine and iatrogenia

The stated purpose of the practice of medicine is not exactly what most people think. It is believed that the main mission of a doctor is to save lives, but that is not true. People also think that the most important goal of a doctor is to heal illnesses and relieve suffering. Even if that's closer to the actual truth, it is still not the main stated aim of a well-trained and well-meaning healthcare professional. The Hypocratic Oath that doctors take when they graduate from Medical School states that, first of all, they should not harm.

Altough this might sound almost absurd - how could a doctor harm a patient? - it is, sadly, more frequent than people think. Malpractice, mistakes and dangerous omissions could cost patients not only their wellbeing and their abilities, but even their lives. The responsible exercise of medicine means that, first of all, the doctor must not make the patient's condition worse with their intervention. Procedures have risks, medication has side effects, interventions may leave emotional scars, and so on. Making a patient worse because of ill-advised or unwise medical intervention is called iatrogenia, and has become the cause of many lawsuits which hospitals and private doctors fear like the boogeyman. 

In order to prevent money losses, prestige losses and human losses, hospitals make investments in order to ensure patient safety, which range from hiring certified doctors with a clean record, to establishing complex communication networks and databases to try and cover any possible threat to the wellbeing and health of their patients.

Avoiding malpractice like the plague

Certain mistakes that could cause patient deaths or a worsening of their condition could cost a doctor their career, and a hospital a respectable amount of money - not to mention their much cherished prestige, so doctors have many reasons to try and make their best to avoid it. From reported problems after surgery to faliure to prevent in-hospital infections, there is a wide spectrum of possible mistakes that could cost the patient, and therefore the practice, more than intended.

Even if there aren't currently many CQC prosecutions that have ended in a hospital being held responsible for the damages, the potential threat of a lawsuit is enough to motivate many practices to invest some of their budget on improving their security systems and their control over the work of the doctors.

Some factors are not in the hospital's control, as they are mainly the responsibility of the doctors who must make sure they perform their duty as best as possible. Some control methods like constant actualization and evaluation of the staff are feasible, but the best the organization can do is make sure the doctors that work there have a reasonably clean record, a valid license, and that they comply to an efficient and effective network of communication, data storage and online control of practices for the sake of the patients. 

Constant professional improvement for prevention

Establishing a working network of data flow and storage is just part of an organic approach to patient risks in hospitals. A lot has to do with the doctors knowing their practice, learning from each other's mistakes, being properly mentored, having the right tools to to their job, and being in a process of constant actualization and updating. Outlooks such as shared learning have proven to be highly effective in reducing the risk of costly mistakes in the practice of healthcare, as education is a powerful tool for any professional to become better and better in their field.

Doctors that know the most or have the most valuable experience are particularly encouraged to teach what they know in congresses and other meetings of professionals, aside from college classes in Medical School. Education must be updated and grounded in reality, because it is way better to make a mistake and learn from it on a model or a corpse at the Uni than with a real patient at a hospital. Education must be realistic and cover all the aspects of a doctor's practice, including the various scenearios in which they could find themselves once they don the scrubs and hang the stethoscope from their neck.

The practice of medicine can be highly gratifying for those who hold it at heart, especially those to do so because they want to heal people and improve their lives. If good faith doctors have all tools necessary to do their job and are well trained, the chances of doing harm to their patients instead of curing them drastically decreases, which is a benefit for all parts involved.


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