Brain Surgery and the Importance of Admitting Mistakes

From Emily Anthes’ piece on an article about Henry Cushing, an early-1900s neurosurgeon who “openly acknowledged and described significant instances of human error, mistakes in judgment and technique, and equipment and supply oversights, regardless of whether these events affected patient outcome. Mistakes were analyzed and recorded to be drawn on as lessons to improve future care. “

Unfortunately, the actual article is behind a paywall, but if you have access to it, it’s a great read.  Cushing had a dry wit about the whole business, recording the mistakes of the “operator” (himself) with honesty and occasional sarcasm.  As the article points out, this is something that doctors nowadays would shudder in horror at.  Admit mistakes?  Where malpractice lawyers might be able to subpeona them?  No way!  Still, it’s a shame, because, as Cushing said,

“Statistics are dreary matters, but it is periodically incumbent upon us to assemble our cases not only for our own instruction lest we bury in obscurity our mistaken and bad results, but also to acquaint others with the standing of operative measures. We have become confronted of late years with new surgical problems … and, hesitating as our steps may be in meeting these problems, our operative experiences must from time to time be recorded in all their lights and shadows.”

(cross-posted to Tumblr:  Brain Surgery and the Importance of Admitting Mistakes )

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