To Err Is Human

My main takeaway from the Telluride experience was a deeper reflection of human nature. It seems silly, but I had never considered the implications of the title of the landmark IOM report: “To Err Is Human.” Rather than an excuse or an indictment, it is a commentary on our natural tendency to commit errors, regardless of training, skill, or experience. No human can ever be perfect all the time. Yet, this is how I grew to think of myself and other healthcare providers. With the appropriate intellect, passion, and attention, we could do our jobs well. There was no room for error and no expectation that any would be made. That way of thinking and working, especially in the broken system of healthcare, is a recipe for disaster. When an error inevitably occurs, the assumption is that an individual is to blame for their incompetence, laziness, or carelessness. This often makes the situation even worse, as shame, fear, and guilt can lead to covering up, lying, and remaining silent.

However, if we accept our human tendency to commit errors, we can develop a safer system. We can consider human factors in designing products and processes in healthcare according to how they will realistically be used by people. We can train students and providers how to handle their mistakes in a way that minimizes harm and promotes trust. We can expect that errors will occur, regardless of the amount of training or prevention, and develop safeguards. Yes, to err is human.

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