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.
We must acknowledge that our health care system is composed of people -- it doesn't just take care of people. Those people -- our cardiologists, nurse practitioners, X-ray technicians, and surgeons -- work better when they work together.
People seeking health care often feel that they are forced to walk in blind. Yes, you can choose where to go for your health care but in reality, you often have had no useful information to make your decision. Until now.
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.
Brian Goldman makes an impassioned personal case for changing the culture of medicine by admitting errors of judgment. I think that the most important step in making that change is recognizing the relationship between physician and patient for what it really is: a partnership.
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.
The need for love and intimacy is a fundamental human need, as primal as the need for food, water, and air. Yet because of the breakdown of social networks in the past 25 years, this need often goes unfulfilled.
Our culture says tiredness is to be ignored; it says the need for sleep is a weakness to be overcome if success is to be achieved. In many corners of the medical world, admitting to being tired is akin to admitting you're less than committed to your work.
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.