Ring’s public admission is rare in a field that typically cloaks doctors’ errors in anonymity, if not secrecy. Patient safety advocates praised Ring’s seven-page mea culpa as a necessary step to reversing rising numbers of wrong-site surgeries and other errors.
How pervasive is the vexing problem of wrong site surgery?
In 2008, the most recent year with complete records, 116 wrong-site surgeries, up from 93 in 2007, were recorded by the Joint Commission, a national hospital accrediting agency. Preliminary reports logged 137 wrong-site surgeries from March 2009 through June 2010. That’s despite more than a decade of attention to the issue following the landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report titled “To Err is Human.”
Dr. Ring is praised in the article for bringing this medical mistake to light, as he should be. This is the way totally preventable medical mistakes should be handled--with transparency. But I would disagree with any assertion that his going public with what happened is considered some sort of act of courage.
Admitting an obvious and indefensible medical mistake is not courageous; it is, simply, the right thing to do. As to the medical profession it may be considered courageous, but only because mistakes like this are often explained away, mitigated, or even justified as "system errors" or other euphamistic nonsense. A medical culture that discourages admitting error is the true root cause for the lack of coming forward and the transparency and honesty showed by Dr. Ring in this instance.
So give him a lot of credit for doing the right thing here. But the publicity this incident has garnered, and labelling it as an act of courage, says more about the current culture of the medical profession than anything else.
Bottom line: if a doctor makes a preventable medical mistake, just admit it and move on. That's why doctors and hospitals have malpractice insurance. When we get to the point that something like this is NOT newsworthy, the medical profession will have caught up to the rest of how society views personal responsibility and accountability.