Medical mistakes under the microscope

July 11, 2002

ANN ARBOR, MI - When the prestigious Institute of Medicine issued its scathing report on medical errors and their deadly toll in November, 1999, all of America took notice. The report opened many eyes to the dangers that patients face from health care mistakes and mishaps, and spurred a movement to increase patient safety.

Now, a new book picks up where the IOM left off, diagnosing the persistent causes of medical errors and offering new ways to think about errors from top experts. Titled "Medical Error: What Do We Know? What Do We Do?" (Jossey-Bass/Wiley), it offers a timely, comprehensive and constructive discussion on a crucial issue in medicine.

University of Michigan medical sociologist Marilynn M. Rosenthal, Ph.D., and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Ph.D., an associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the U-M Business School, co-edited the volume, which collects essays from doctors, nurses, health care administrators, researchers and organizational experts involved in the effort to make American health care safer. Rosenthal and Sutcliffe co-wrote introduction and discussion sections.

"Coincidentally, we had scheduled a symposium on medical errors at the U-M for October, 1999, to bring together some of the key players in the field," says Rosenthal, who runs the U-M Forum on Health Policy.

"With the momentum from that event, and from the IOM report, we were able to compile this book, which we hope will be a resource for anyone involved in health care," she continues. "In particular, we have a cutting-edge discussion of systems theories and their applications to health care."

Rosenthal, whose past books include "Medical Mishaps: Pieces of the Puzzle", notes that the new book includes critiques of the IOM report, as well as calls for transparency, accountability and action based on thoughtful and accurate understanding. It addresses ways in which health care is mired in outdated approaches, instances where data on medical errors have been misinterpreted, sources of new insights, and opportunities for innovation.

The book's contributors are: Gilbert S. Omenn, M.D., Ph.D., U-M executive vice president for medical affairs, wrote the book's foreword. Omenn chairs the IOM's Committee on Enhancing Federal Health Care Quality Programs, which is currently preparing an independent external review of the quality oversight, quality improvement and quality research programs under federal system. The committee was commissioned by Congress in the wake of the IOM medical errors report.

"We feel we've pulled together a good variety of perspectives, to answer questions that get to the heart of understanding and preventing errors," says Rosenthal, whose past books also include "Dealing with Medical Malpractice" and "The Incompetent Doctor". Sutcliffe is the co-author, with Weick, of a 2001 book, "Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity".
"Medical Error: What Do We Know? What Do We Do?" by Marilynn M Rosenthal and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe. Jossey-Bass/Wiley, July 2002, $45.00, cloth, 325 pages, ISBN: 0-7879-6395-X. Available by special order in bookstores nationwide, via all major online booksellers and at or by calling 800-956-7739.

University of Michigan Health System

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