Fault and Blame vs. Sympathy and Caring

Ilene Corina is the director of PULSE (Persons United Limiting Substandards and Errors). She has worked in this advocacy world for more than ten years since the loss of her baby to a medical error.

I can’t improve on her words, which arrived in this morning’s bi-weekly newsletter…. See what you think:

Addressing the Culture
By Ilene Corina

Patient safety, a topic spoken about throughout hospital administration and assumed to be an important role for all healthcare staff, is still thought of as lawsuits and lotteries. I am learning that more and more while working with medical professionals at a “grassroots” level.

Not so much that they believe that they are being sued, but given a scenario about an injury – such as a blatant mistake that a friend or neighbor tells them about, when they survey the staff at healthcare facilities or the general public, their common response is “sue them”, or “get a lawyer” as if a lawsuit will make it all better.

I find it disturbing that the first thing people; medical professionals or not, want to learn about a medical injury is whose fault it was and was there a lawsuit; instead of saying to the person who described this unplanned outcome “I’m so sorry this happened to you”.

To struggle with a cancer diagnosis and seek support from friends, the cancer patient will get from those who love them the words “I’m so sorry”. The death of a spouse from a sudden accident or long illness gets a thoughtful “I’m so sorry” from caring friends and neighbors. Even a divorce, separation or sudden job loss, those looking for support often hear the sympathetic words “I’m so sorry”. But, tell someone your child died from a hospital infection, wrong medication or a surgery error and instead of sympathy the first reaction is “did you sue?”
This is worse than taking pictures at a car accident. It is the curiosity of what you got out of the death or injury, and I too am guilty of thinking about a lawsuit were there an injury or death from a medical error. But really, I have stopped asking years ago.

I can start quoting statistics here about how many people who could sue actually do sue but I won’t bore you with the statistics. Read them yourself if you want. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2006-releases/press05102006.html

We need to put the facts into perspective about what it means to lose a loved one from sudden death or the loss of the use of body functions from a medical error. Diseases and sudden death still bring sympathy, medical errors still bring blame – whose fault is that?


Do you know someone who has suffered from a medical error? Now you know the appropriate response.

Thanks, Ilene. A good lesson for us all.

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