Medical Error – 3/8/14 – Nishita Dsouza

Did you know that medical error results in almost 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year? This staggering statistic is equivalent to the death toll that would result from a jumbo jet crashing every day for a year. On Thursday, February 6th, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics hosted an event titled “Medical Error,” which was the inauguration of their annual Conversations in Bioethics series. The event was moderated by Maggie Little, PhD, the Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. Panelists at the discussion included distinguished national experts John James, MD, former chief toxicologist at NASA and founder of Patient Safety America; Brian Goldman, MD, emergency physician-author and host of the CBC’s White Coat, Black Art; and Beth Daley Ullem, MBA, nationally-recognized advocate for patient safety and quality and Georgetown SFS alumna. The event was preceded with a curated gallery of student work on medical error and apology and a book-signing by the panelists.

The discussion began with each of the panelists detailing how they became involved in working with the subject of medical error, and went on to detail what they believe is causing the high mortality rate. The panelists detailed various types of medical errors that occur, including errors of commission, errors of context, diagnostic errors, and errors of communication. The conversation also included the structural changes that have occurred in the healthcare system that increase the susceptibility of physicians to commit medical errors. Lastly, the speakers detailed improvements that can be made to the system to combat the occurrence of medical error, including instituting a Patient Bill of Rights, increased disclosure of clinical procedures to patients, increased efforts towards patient feedback, and the disclosure of comparative information with regards to healthcare services.

For more information about upcoming events in the field of bioethics, email

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