Error. It’s a subject medical professionals neither want to hear nor think about, especially when it comes to their own practice.
Among life’s core assumptions is that hospitals bring healing. But sometimes they bring harm. As professionals sworn to safeguard the lives and health of patients, physicians know that any incorrect or spurious result can impact their ability to do as they have promised.
And yet, errors still occur.
A large number of medical malpractice lawsuits stem from the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a medical condition, illness, or injury. When a doctor's diagnosis error leads to incorrect treatment, delayed treatment, or no treatment at all, a patient's condition can be made much worse, and they may even die.
There are a number of ways that medical negligence can happen, such as misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment or surgical mistakes. Negligence arising from medical acts may result in a civil action by the injured party (claimant) or a criminal prosecution by the state.
“We cannot talk of saving the patient’s life before we look into the issue of calibrating the equipment. In Africa, this is a big problem which we need to address in unison,” Dr Rotich said.
Medical malpractice cases arise when a patient is harmed by a doctor or nurse (or other medical professional) who fails to provide proper healthcare treatment. Fortunately, doctors, nurses, and hospitals make mistakes in only a small number of cases.
But within that small minority of cases, certain types of errors crop up more often than others. The medical board has identified one type as arising from machine error. These errors, according to the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), result from use of uncalibrated medical equipment.
Kebs wants more hospitals to recalibrate their medical equipment to ensure they adhere to the required international standards. Henry Rotich, Kebs director of metrology and testing, said that despite a number of hospitals undertaking the process, its uptake is still low in most health institutions and hence needs to be embraced more.
“Whereas a number of hospitals in the country like Kenyatta National Hospital do calibration of their equipment our concern is about the use of uncalibrated equipment in some health institutions.
“Our request to the administrators is that they must carry out this process because it is important as it seeks to assure patients of their proper diagnosis,” Dr Rotich said.
Uncalibrated equipment has been linked to misdiagnoses, which have led to the administration of wrong medication.
“We cannot talk of saving the patient’s life before we look into the issue of calibrating the equipment. In Africa, this is a big problem which we need to address in unison,” he added.
But are machines the only guilty party when it comes to cases of medical negligence, error or malpractice? Prof Lukoye Atwoli, a consultant psychiatrist and an associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at Moi University School of Medicine, says making wrong diagnoses is common for doctors, but it does not mean that the doctor is negligent.
“Doctors should look at the treatment of a patient from a holistic approach and not solely relying on laboratory results. The doctor will still treat the patient based on their examination of the patient,” he argues.
Whereas Prof Atwoli does not dispute the fact that equipment can interfere with patient care, doctors should always keep in mind that laboratory tests come with a margin of error and ultimately, the doctor’s knowledge and skills must always be applied.
While doctors can blame the machine when an error occurs, he goes on to explain, they will have to demonstrate that they did everything within their knowledge all through. Patients, especially those aggrieved in cases of alleged malpractice, however, will not be satisfied with the outcomes of the medical board’s inquiries particularly if they lead to the accused medic being let off the hook by being sent for training. Deregistration of a doctor, which he equates to a death sentence in a murder charge, Prof Atwoli adds, is not the answer to cases of medical errors.
“What many patients fail to understand is that some of what is perceived to be negligence or malpractice in most cases arises from miscommunication which can be remedied through training, mentorship and following protocol. A doctor is expected to act with reasonable care, using their acquired skill and knowledge to give the patient the care they need,” he explained.