University of Missouri Takes On Impossible Task of Preventing Medical Error

University of Missouri Takes On Impossible Task of Preventing Medical Error

Among the latest on a long list of institutions pursuing the holy grail of error-free healthcare, the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) is hard at work to reduce surgical mistakes.

In an innovative new project, UMKC has combined its medical and engineering departments to develop a teaching program for mid-urethral sling surgery, a high-risk area of medicine that injures patients in 5-10 percent of procedures. The school’s solution incorporates motion sensors and 3D modeling to simulate surgery and examine how certain movements cause the injuries. Any data collected during these surgeries is then translated into clinical training material.

Mid-urethral surgery is the students’ main focus at the moment, but widening the scope on surgical procedures illuminates a major problem.

“Worldwide, probably about one out of 200 surgeries are fatal,” said Gary Sutkin, professor and program director at UMKC’s School of Medicine.

UMKC students hope to reduce that number to zero. But knowing what we know about our own nation’s history of medical errors, is this nothing more than a pipe dream?

Healthcare’s Distorted and Dangerous Views on Culpability

As mentioned, the University of Missouri is not the first group of researchers to attempt to reduce medical errors. Many more over the last few decades have developed error mitigation strategies across all healthcare departments from surgical operations to emergency care, testing everything from cutting-edge technology to simple checklists.

Most studies agree that doctors are most likely to make errors when performing either high-stress or routine tasks. Birth injuries can happen when rushing a mother to hospital, for example, or if a doctor misses critical warning signs during prenatal visits. Other common healthcare outcomes include misdiagnosis, adverse drug events, injuries from falls, and even wrong-site surgery.

Unfortunately, little progress is being made to prevent these perilous mistakes. Doctors are unwilling to tarnish their reputations with embarrassing, life-threatening mishaps and hospitals are all too eager to cover up medical negligence for financial gain.

Of course, mistakes are part of human nature. It’s even fair to say that reluctance to admit a mistake is human. But in fields such as medicine, in which actions mean the difference between life and death, concealing a mistake is about as far from human as a wrongdoer can get. In cases that result in death, hidden errors are purely unlawful.

Will Doctors Ever Master the Art of Admitting Failure?

A recent study by John Hopkins University attributed more than 250,000 annual deaths to medical negligence, making this America’s third leading cause of death. That’s right: More people are dying from avoidable medical error than from respiratory disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s combined.

Shocking though this estimate is, the medical community insists these numbers are inflated. Still, others say 250,000 could even be an underestimation. Given the healthcare industry’s long-established culture of secrecy (and a culture of perfectionism that trains doctors to believe that mistakes are unacceptable), doctors might be causing and burying more deaths and injuries than we can imagine.

Technologies like UMKC’s 3D model may go a long way in finding out how mistakes are made and streamlining complex medical operations. But in truth, these solutions are worthless if used by untrustworthy doctors. Without admitting errors, doctors will have no need to analyze them. And without analyzing their mistakes, doctors won’t have the means to reduce them. The only way to reduce mistakes, therefore, is to admit they were made, investigate how and why the error happened, and work toward ways to avoid more of the same.

Sokolove Law Team

Contributing Authors

The Sokolove Law Content Team is made up of writers, editors, and journalists. We work with case managers and attorneys to keep site information up to date and accurate. Our site has a wealth of resources available for victims of wrongdoing and their families.

Last modified: May 23, 2019