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Is Psychology the Key to Reducing Medical Errors?

Several recent studies focusing on cognitive research have shown some promise in reducing medical mistakes and improving patient safety. As San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, we strongly support efforts to reduce the number of deaths from medical errors, which, as one of the studies aptly noted, is “equivalent to a 727 (jet) or two crashing every day of the year.”

The studies, which highlight the important role psychology can play in healthcare, are published in a special issue of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. They address issues such as threats to patient safety due to provider errors in diagnosis, medication, and surgery as well as patient issues such as decision-making regarding illness prevention and self-care.

“These studies examine the cognitive issues related to a wide range of important safety problems in various health care scenarios, from hospital operating rooms to young adult education programs about sexually transmitted disease,” said Daniel G. Morrow, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Morrow and Francis T. Durso, PhD, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, introduced and edited the articles.

Below is a small sample of the research findings:

  • Nurses who recognize patient identification errors before giving medication appear to visually scan information differently from nurses who more frequently make mistakes, according to one study.
  • An analysis of eye movement data from surgical nurses found that visual attention and dealing with interruptions directly relates to performance during operations, reported another.
  • Surgeons doing minimally invasive surgery, which involves inserting instruments through small incisions and looking at tissues with a camera, may improve performance by using multiple camera views, researchers concluded.

Source: The American Psychological Association