Why Should Providers Talk to Patients after Adverse Events?

IHI Open School Video Short Transcript

Helen Haskell, MA, mother of Lewis Blackman, a 15-year-old boy who died from medical error, President of Mothers Against Medical Error, and member of the IHI Board of Directors

They really need to look at it as a professional obligation that they have. I see it as the ultimate test of professionalism. This is about your relationship with the patient, and it’s the point at which they need you most. What has been happening is that professionals have been encouraged to bail on patients right at that moment.

The psychological scarring of being abandoned like that, and having a relationship of trust just denied — people don’t get over it. I have really been shocked at some of the experiences of families who have lost someone due to a medical error, have had after the fact. People who I never would have expected talk about how they were driven to the verge of suicide by the fact that no one considered their family member’s life to have any value. They didn’t want to talk about it, they didn’t want to learn from it, and they didn’t want to admit that anything wrong had happened. This is more than people can take, and it’s highly unprofessional, and yet it’s what people have been doing. We need to change that.

I really think that if you can’t face hard times with your patient, you’re not a professional. Professionalism is not entitlement, professionalism means that you are superseded by what you’re trying to do and by the interests of others. When the chips are down, if you can’t demonstrate that, then you are not a professional. This is really a critical thing for people to learn early in the game: integrity and humility.

You really have to approach medicine and health care as not necessarily just a service — it is a service — but to use Paul Batalden’s term, co-production, it is a mutual endeavor. People are different; people are not always easy, but you just have to do the best you can in all of it. If you do the best you can, including when things are really terrifying, then you will be a professional.