Study: Doctors Are People, Too

It's of little comfort to the man whose doctor removed the wrong kidney, but a  new study has found that surgeons agonize over complications, and the mistakes they make.

According to Sam Wong at Imperial College in London, "Many surgeons are seriously affected on an emotional level when complications occur in the operating suite."

Wong said that researchers at his institution interviewed 27 surgeons and found that down to a one, all were very concerned when complications occurred on their watch.

The operating room is one of the highest risk areas for serious complications, with potentially profound consequences for patients and healthcare professionals, Wong notes. "But there has been little research into how surgeons respond to serious complications or how best to support staff following such events," he writes.

We're all, or most of us, used to the brusque doctor who rushes into the examining room, looks you over (sometimes without even touching you, as happened in my recent experience with my oncologist), then rushes out.  I don't know about you but I've come to see a lot of my doctors as machines -- efficient ones, surely -- but beings without feelings, or certainly, doubts.

It was interesting to me, who's had quite a bit of experience with surgeons in the last several years, to think that they have feelings, too.  (Of course, I've also had surgeons who kissed me on the forehead (a woman), and said a prayer, right before major surgery.)

But you hear these horrific stories about doctors who amputate the wrong limb, or remove the wrong organ, or, more commonly, leave scissors or sponges inside patients, with the hospital --and often, the doctor --taking no responsibility and you begin to think they truly don't care, it's just a job to them.

However, I would imagine that if you thought the surgery was proceeding normally and then the patient begins to bleed out, you'd be pretty emotional.

I must say it took me aback for a second, realizing that doctors are people, too.  They  have feelings, and get upset when they screw up, just like the rest of us.  Of course, when you're talking about someone's life, it's a little more serious.

The study found that surgeons who reported a surgical error in recent months "are more likely to have a lower quality of life and symptoms of burnout and depression," Wong writes. This isn't just the doctor's problem, he notes, as "high levels of stress may affect a surgeon’s clinical performance and compromise patient safety" on other surgeries.

On a slightly different note, another study points out an even more disturbing trend.  When doctors say you need a certain treatment, and your insurance company says no, you may die.

According to, researchers found that patients who were denied or delayed insurance approval for bariatric surgery, despite being cleared by their medical team, "had a mortality rate three times higher than patients who received insurance approval without delay." reports that about one-in-five (22%) surgically eligible patients were initially denied by their insurance provider, and "within a five-year period 6 percent of them died, compared to less than 2 percent of those who received insurance approval."

So I guess the point is this: Stay well (and out of hospitals) as long as you can.


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