Message from the President – October 2018

Posted on Oct 2, 2018 in President's Message | 0 comments

On Saturday, September 15th, Dr. Jo Shapiro from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, trained 24 of our physicians in Peer Support. We learned about physician burnout, just culture, and most importantly coping and recovering after an adverse event or medical error. Unfortunately, many of us have been involved in an adverse patient outcome or an event that has harmed a patient. We are human, and regrettably, we are not error-free in our actions, despite the fact that many of us are perfectionists, holding ourselves to an extremely high standard. What organizations aim to do is create systems that catch errors before they reach a patient, before the error causes harm. We aim to be harm free. However, unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Being involved in an adverse event or medical error may cause significant emotional distress. We may experience shame, self-doubt, decreased self-worth, increased anxiety about a future event, fear, anger, sleep disturbances, and obsessive rumination about the event. A professional culture of blame, shame, and silence can cause isolation. Dr. Shapiro shared a study demonstrating that after a medical error, 30 percent of physicians experienced a negative impact on their work performance, personal life, or colleague relationships. After a medical error, there also is a higher risk of burnout, and burnout leads to a higher risk of medical errors.

So what can we do? First, all of the above feelings we experience when faced with an adverse event or medical error are normal. We need to be able to speak to our emotions in order to heal. Debriefings are often not an effective space for physicians discuss errors as we often act as team cheerleader. Also, physicians are viewed as a team leader and often do not feel comfortable disclosing these types of emotions to the team. As physicians, many of us feel a stigma to reaching out for help. We also may feel we lack time. However, in a study, 88 percent of physicians would like to have support from a physician colleague, someone who can more deeply appreciate what we experience. A Peer Supporter. We as physicians deserve self-care and support. This will help us to heal ourselves and get us back to what we do best, heal others.

There are many next steps to fully implement our Peer Support Program, now that we are trained. We plan to link our systems that learn about adverse events to Peer Support and have automatic triggers where we will send an email or make a phone call to check in and see how you are doing. Also, if you or another physician is in need of Peer Support, for any reason, we will establish an email and telephone line where you can leave a message and someone will reach out to you or your colleague.

Peer Support is not linked to Peer Review or a root cause analysis. It also is not a legal discussion about a case. It is gift of compassionate listening from a colleague. The conversation is confidential. Also, if you do not want to talk about an event, there is no pressure to discuss. We are here if you change your mind.

More to come as our program develops!

Take care and be well,

Jill Kacher Cobb, MD
President, Summit Medical Staff, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

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