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News1990April › Watch out: here comes the man in the white coat › April 1990

Watch out: here comes the man in the white coat

Doctors are human, and mistakes will happen

Doctors are human, and mistakes will happen. But just how prevalent are medical errors?

One study, which involved both physicians and patients, found that errors happen too often for comfort. Physicians who took part in the survey found errors in 35 per cent of all cases, while 42 per cent of patients - possibly more critical, or just honest - reported errors.

Most of the errors had serious consequences, often resulting in severe pain or a substantial loss of time off work or school. In 10 per cent of cases, the patient died as a result of the error.

Doctors were responsible for 81 per cent of medical mishaps, but it was the patient, or his family, who reported the vast majority of errors.

While you would expect doctors and patients to be alarmed by the findings, neither viewed errors to be a major problem in healthcare.

It will clearly take more than that to expunge the comforting image of the man in the white coat. (Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2002; 347: 1933-40).


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