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Errors and matters of judgment

Even good doctors make mistakes

Overview and objectives

Young female patient in hospital bed


There are two types of physicians: those that have made mistakes and those that will. — James Reason

It is surprisingly difficult to define what a medical provider error is. Diseases and the provision of medical care are inherently complex; an unexpected clinical outcome does not mean that an error was made.

In many situations, it is unclear whether an error contributed to the outcome for the patient. Most adverse clinical outcomes result from the progression of the patient's underlying medical condition, however, harm can also be the result of inherent risks in investigations or treatments, or can be caused by a series of system failures. Some adverse outcomes are related to the performance of the provider, or a combination of this and other factors.


After completing this topic you will be able to explain the difference between a medical error and a matter of judgment.