The harmful impact of an adverse event ripples beyond injured patients and their families to affect physicians, nurses, and other health care staff that are involved. These “Second Victims” may experience intense feelings of anxiety, guilt, and fear. They may doubt their clinical competence or ability to continue working at all. Some go on to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Medical institutions long ignored this problem, preferring to believe that adverse events, or “errors,” occur due to incompetence — the unfortunate work of a few “bad” practitioners who deserve, if anything, a reprimand for their negligence. Study after study has rejected this attribution and shown that adverse events in health care stem primarily from systemic flaws, not “bad apples.” Devastating errors, in other words, can, do, and always will happen in the care of competent, well-trained, and caring practitioners.