Going the distance

Distraction opens the door to mistakes

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. May 16, 2012

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

I recently spoke at a major medical meeting. As I was firing up my computer, a number of colleagues came up to talk. When it was time for me to speak, I began my presentation. About halfway through, my computer screen went blank.

I'd forgotten to plug in my computer. Now this was a minor interruption. I took responsibility, and everything worked out fine.

We know that when we're tired or distracted, we're not at our best. In most circumstances, the resulting mistakes are trivial. We forget where we parked our car. We can't find our keys. But let me share a story with you.

At a major medical center, a patient was receiving care for cancer arising from the left kidney. Tragically, during surgery the patient's healthy right kidney was removed instead of the cancerous left kidney. Devastation for the patient, the family and the medical care team.

How could this have happened? A careful review of the records revealed that some of the individuals involved in the care of this patient had been distracted by beepers and cell phones, which affected their focus and concentration.

Most of us aren't surgeons and don't deal with life-or-death situations, but the lesson is powerful nevertheless.

When we fail to focus, we make mistakes. Knowing that, what can we do to avoid it? How can we conserve our energy? How can we protect our priorities? Please weigh in.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

6 Comments Posted

May 16, 2012