Medical Errors, the Culture of Silence, and What Can Be Done About It

Dr. Brian Goldman is an emergency room physician practicing medicine in Toronto. He is one of a small number of physicians who has decided to speak out about medical errors and doctors’ silence about these errors. According to Goldman, because doctors are human, mistakes are inevitable. However, the silence surrounding them and the medical culture that fosters such silence is at issue. Goldman points out that failure to discuss such medical errors leads to more errors because no one learns in such an atmosphere.
Michael Drew, blogging for the Huffington Post, notes that doctors like Brian Goldman reflects a cultural shift that reflects an emphasis on civic duty, including the civic duty to discuss and correct medical errors. Drew writes in part, “Goldman wants the medical community to be more transparent, and his call for change, while seeming to be a cry in the medical wilderness, is actually a sentiment that echoes with our current social mood. Working together to learn from mistakes and improve health care reflects the current values of society. My co-author Roy H. Williams and I address such social shifts in our new book, Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future.
We’ve found that every 40 years or so, society’s values and culture shift significantly — society swings back and forth on an invisible pendulum, from an individualistic “me” cycle, such as what we had in the 1960s and 1970s, to a more civic-minded “we” cycle, like we experienced after World War II.”
If Drew is correct, cultural mores and attitudes will gradually affect the medical community and the community will become more transparent. If this is indeed correct, patients and society as a whole will be the beneficiaries.

Holly Haines