Caring for Caregivers During Patient Safety Week

Over the last few years, we have written about the vital importance of Care-for-the-Caregiver programs when unintended patient harm occurs from a medical error. As caregivers, the willingness to admit our humanness, as well as our ability to make an error, helps us reframe the recovery and learning process when these events tragically occur. All too often, we have turned away from our fellow colleagues, or worse, blamed them at a time when they needed our support the most. We all know of stories where good, caring healthcare professionals have taken their own lives after unintentionally harming a patient. As a profession, we need to do better.

Sully_Sullenberger_SkilesBut what about the impact a highly stressful event, even with a good outcome, can have on our care teams? And could that stress impact the safe care of the next patient?

I encourage everyone to read an outstanding two-page opinion piece in JAMA titled “What I Learned About Adverse Events From Captain Sully – It’s Not What You Think”. Written by Marjorie Podraza Steigler, a fellow anesthesiologist, the article should cause all of us to stop and rethink this important question. An emotional toll on physicians and nurses may occur even when no error was made, and the care team responded with precision during a major patient care crisis. As a cardiac anesthesiologist, I think of emergent, high-risk cases that went for hours, and while the outcome may have been good, the team was physically and emotionally drained afterwards. All of us, however, were usually expected to immediately return to the operating room for the next case often without time to process what had just occurred.

As Dr. Steigler correctly points out:

The contrast between the immediate removal from duty for those involved in the Miracle on the Hudson and the expectation that permeates our hospitals is stark. In both cases, the safe care of the next “customers,” whether they be travelers or patients, is at stake.

We have to do better for ourselves if we ever expect to do better for our patients.

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