Want to improve health care? Start with medical schools

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 16th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Despite the efforts of many in health care, doctors still have a reputation for being rude and dismissive toward their patients and underlings. Unfortunately, most of the worst offenders learned this behavior in medical school, where they were bullied and belittled by their instructors.

Dr. Lucian (Loo-Shun) Leape says it’s time for this to stop. Dr. Leape is generally considered the father of the patient safety movement in America. Now, he and members of the National Patient Safety Foundation are calling on medical schools to expand their curriculum to include more training in teamwork and collegiality and to emphasize respectful behavior.

If anyone can launch this movement, it’s Leape, who is now a health policy analyst at Harvard University. A pediatric surgeon by training, he had a successful clinical practice for more than 25 years. In 1994, he turned his attention to patient safety. His paper, Error in Medicine, launched the conversation about preventable medical mistakes that continues today.

For years, medical schools have trained students to work autonomously. But Dr. Leape said the practice of medicine is now too complex to continue to rely on individuals. By emphasizing teamwork and collegiality, not only will patient safety improve, but it will also make hospitals and health care systems a more pleasant place for both patients and employees.

A few hospitals have already taken Dr. Leape’s recommendations to heart, including health systems at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of South Florida. The American Medical Students Association also plans to make this topic the theme of their annual conference.

Only time will tell if Dr. Leape’s campaign will be successful. But it could mean a happier — and safer — health care industry for all.