The need and availability of support systems for physicians involved in a serious adverse event

Esther H.M. Leferink, Aline Bos, Martijn P. Heringa, Elizabeth L.J. van Rensen, Dorien L.M. Zwart


Objective: Serious adverse events occur in healthcare, and do not solely have consequences for patients (first victims), but also affect physicians involved (second victims). These second victims experience diminished emotional well-being and less professional performance. An increasing number of hospitals organize support for second victims, although scientific evidence on the kind of support that is expected and needed is poor. This study therefore investigates support needs after serious adverse events from both personal (physicians) and organizational (quality and safety staff members) perspectives.
Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews in a Dutch university medical center. Physicians (N = 19) who had been directly involved in a serious adverse event participated. In addition, quality and safety staff members (N = 3) reflected on the support needs as expressed by physicians. Verbatim transcripts were three-fold coded, which led to several themes for our inductive thematic analysis.
Results: Contrary to recent developments in healthcare organizations, participants did not plea for a hospital-wide support team. Acceptance of the emotional and professional impact of an adverse event by direct colleagues and supervisors is more important. Where such a cultural context is provided, physicians prefer support of a close and reliable colleague to cope with emotions and doubts, a supervisor who monitors recovery, and a healthcare organization that provides information about required procedures to learn from the events. However, this ideal was seldom found in the competitive working environment. This underlines the need for a shift from a competitive professional culture into a more supportive one.
Conclusions: Ideally, direct colleagues support each other after an adverse event. This form of collegial support can only be successful if there is general acceptance of healthcare professionals’ vulnerability and their support needs within the direct working environment. To create the right circumstances to meet these support needs, both healthcare professionals and hospital organizations have to recognize and take their responsibilities.

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Journal of Hospital Administration

ISSN 1927-6990(Print)   ISSN 1927-7008(Online)

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