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Human Error in Medicine

Posted on:3/27/2012
Although accidents and adverse events in health care are numerous, they are insidious. Except for celebrated malpractice claims, they usually go unnoticed in the public media and underreported in compilations of accident statistics.

These microcatastrophes occur throughout the health-care system. They are often one of a kind, and there are many different kinds. The causes are not always easy to isolate and usually have multiple origins.

Because the system is so loosely coupled, errors originating with the health-care system from human and equipment failures do not propagate throughout it or culminate in major catastrophes such as the Challenger tragedy. Rather, there is an injury here, a mistake there, an accident here, a death there. These microevents add up to over 100,000 a year

Errors in the administration of medication are at least as likely to occur in home health-care settings as in hospitals and clinics. Individuals receiving home care may range from infants to the very old and may be affected by language, visual, hearing, and physical disabilities.


As medical technology has become more sophisticated and complex, errors in its operation have increased. The problems are the result of many factors. Devices have not been standardized; they look and work differently. Equipment has not been designed in accordance with human-factors design practices; it does not work the way users expect it to work. Procedures for operating and maintaining equipment are often incomplete and difficult to comprehend. Users are not given adequate, task-specific training and opportunities for supervised practice.

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