Why the need to reduce medical errors is not obvious

Authors

  • Stephen Buetow MA (Hons) PhD

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, School of Population Health, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
    Search for more papers by this author

Dr Stephen Buetow, Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand, E-mail: s.buetow@auckland.ac.nz

Abstract

According to Leape & Berwick (2000) the need to reduce medical errors is ‘obvious and the mandate is clear’. My article questions this assertion. I go beyond the unknown incidence of medical errors in a general medical population to suggest that the meaning of medical errors is itself equivocal. I contest the assumption that the ‘wrongness’ of medical errors is always problematic, arguing instead for a distinction between desirable errors and undesirable errors. This distinction takes into account the consequences of errors, and why they may occur. Reasons include the inappropriateness of two cultural contexts – evidence-based medicine and continuous quality improvement – within which patient safety standards can be constructed and hence, medical errors can be defined.

Ancillary