A few days ago, EMS1 reported that a Tennessee paramedic had been demoted for administering an incorrect medication to a patient. I have mixed feelings about this and I’d like to know your thoughts.
My first thought is that we can’t race to judge if the discipline was warranted or appropriate in this specific circumstance. As always, in incidents like this, only a rare few people actually know the whole story. None of us can speak to the paramedics experience, his thought process, his history within the organization or his reputation. It is unlikely that any of us will ever know whether this was an isolated event or a problematic trend.
Having said that, I always have reservations about punitive responses to honest medical errors. I just think that they aren’t the right way to solve these types of problems. Human beings error. As long as humans carry out the work of medicine there will be errors. They are indeed inevitable.
Once we make peace with this idea, we can go about the real business of reducing errors to an acceptable minimum and always striving to reduce the number of occurrences and the harm done with each error. That’s easy for me to say. And it’s probably easy for a lot of folks to believe, until a paramedic makes a high profile error like this one and the family’s, facilities and media are clamoring for a response. Then discipline seems like a good idea.
Here’s the rub. Dicipline doesn’t seem to do anything to reduce or prevent the next error. In fact…discipline may make the problem worse.
It’s an interesting dilemma. I’d like to hear what you think.