Medical Mistakes by Residents Often Due to Inadequate Supervision

December 10, 2007

A recent study shows residents are prone to medical errors that stem from teamwork breakdowns, including poor supervision by attending physicians. Conducted by the Department of Health Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the study analyzed date from a random sample of 889 closed malpractice claims. These claims were reviewed by specialist physicians from 2002 to 2004. The reviewers were asked to identify whether injuries occurred and, if so, whether the errors involved medical trainees (such as residents, interns, and fellows). The study focused on four clinical categories which make up about 80 % of all medical malpractice claims in the United States: obstetrics; surgical; missed and delayed diagnosis; and medications.

Findings from Study of Medical Malpractice Claims

Focusing on closed medial malpractice cases involving both error and injury or death, researchers found that 25% involved trainees whose role was considered at least moderately important. In 72% of these cases, judgment errors were a substantial factor. Other contributing factors included memory errors, vigilance errors, lack of technical competence or knowledge, handoff problems, and excessive workloads. Perhaps most striking of all, a lack of supervision by the attending physician contributed to over 50% of these preventable medical errors by residents and other physicians in training.

Resident Training

Many physicians believe residency programs must improve resident supervision and team communications. The challenge with training residents, however, is finding the right balance between too much supervision and too little supervision. Resident autonomy is considered an important part of their training. Too much training can hinder the resident' personal development. However, too little resident training can spell disaster. Physicians who supervise residents must balance the resident' development against the safety of the patient being treated by the resident. In the end, the attending physician is ultimately responsible for the patient and any harm to the patient caused by the a residents mistake. If the resident commits malpractice and seriously injures or kills the patient, the attending physician is just as responsible as the resident. To the extent patient safety is critical, many believe the attending physician (and residency programs in general) should error on the side of caution when it comes to resident supervision. After all, proper resident supervision can literally mean the difference between life and death.

When to Consult a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Simply because a resident or other health professional made an error does not necessarily mean medical malpractice occurred. Nor does a malpractice occur simply because a patient was injured at the hands of a resident or other health professional. A malpractice case requires both a deviation from the standard of care (ie., care below what a reasonable physician would provide) and resulting harm.

If malpractice is suspected, a competent and experienced medical malpractice attorney can assist in finding answers and obtaining just compensation.

Posted by Jason Kroot, Chicago Medical Malpractice Attorney of Kroot Law, LLC

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