Human Error in Medicine

By Marilyn Sue Bogner | Go to book overview

6
Misinterpreting Cognitive Decline in the Elderly: Blaming the Patient

Georgine Vrornan llene Cohen Nancy Volkman Geriatric Mental Health Clinic, Bellevue Hospital Center, New York

This chapter is based on experience and material derived from the Computer Memory (Cognitive Rehabilitation) Program of the Bellevue Hospital Center's Geriatric Mental Health Clinic, New York City. The program has been in existence since 1984.

The chapter focuses on the communication process between patients (and their support persons) on the one hand and their physicians (and other health-care personnel) on the other. The role of cognition, that system of interrelated mental processes on which this exchange of information depends, is analyzed. A detailed discussion follows of some common misperceptions and misinterpretations that can occur during this exchange. There is a listing of some of the underlying causes of these misunderstandings. Throughout, the chapter stresses the possibility that these human errors could seriously harm the patients' treatment and the doctor-patient relationship.

The central point of the chapter is that many of these potentially harmful misunderstandings can be prevented. This requires that all parties involved become actively engaged in the process of prevention. Not only the doctors and the rest of the health-care personnel have to make this commitment, but also the patients themselves and those who support them.

Although the material to be discussed is relevant to the treatment of all patients, the focus is on the elderly. This growing segment of the population in the United States is particularly vulnerable to misunderstandings that can occur between doctors and their patients.

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