Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders and a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) subcommittee held hearings to shine a light on the third leading cause of death in the United States: medical mistakes in hospitals. Curious minds should ask: Where were the hospitals?
Secrecy is unraveling the fabric of the health care system. The dishonor of the deceased is taking its toll. There is only one way out. Count the dead and the injured. Honor them as we would all wish to be honored.
Physicians are human and make mistakes like everyone else. Our weakness lies in denying human fallibility. Our strength lies in acknowledging our imperfections and working together to transform weaknesses into strengths.
While I'd like to say I haven't seen among the younger generation of doctors the arrogance once taken for granted among those from my father's, and my, generation, I have had one disappointing encounter.
How do we reconcile our commitment to excellence in health care with the inevitability of medical errors? How can we be comforted while accepting our fallibility as humans? The words of Voltaire -- "Perfection is the enemy of the good" -- point to one possibility.
We sometimes forget that those great minds in medicine live in a body -- a human body. Those bodies need restorative sleep, nourishing food, stable blood sugar, exercise, and time for connection, reflection, and community.
I am heartened by the dawn of what is called "patient-centered care." This is far more than a slogan; it is a deep and abiding commitment by caregivers to put the patient first, foremost, in a medical care system too often organized for the convenience of caregivers and administrators.
There is a macabre joke about the blindness of modern medicine's reductionistic erudition, and you have likely heard it: "The operation was a great success. Unfortunately, the patient died." That would be a whole lot funnier if it weren't so close to a perilous truth.
Since January of this year, more than half a million people have seen my talk. A small number of people have (rightly) taken me to task for not doing better. But most have been incredibly supportive of my call for health professionals to talk openly about their mistakes.