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Medical Error: Human Error vs. System Error


Medical errors are one of the leading causes of deaths in US healthcare facilities. According to Makary and Daniel (2016), medical errors lead to approximately 400,000 deaths annually. Apart from adverse effects to patients, medical errors also translate to considerable financial losses for healthcare facilities including payments associated with the lost court cases. Two types of errors are distinguished, a human error and a system error. There are also different ways to treat the issue. The traditional approach implies the focus on the individual’s fault while the work system approach concentrates on the gaps within systems that have caused errors (Wiegmann et al., 2016). Researchers and practitioners have come up with certain ways to reduce or even eliminate medical errors.

Typical Errors

It is necessary to note that human and system errors are quite similar. One of the most typical medical errors is associated with medication administration. Drugs can be prescribed incorrectly; dosage can be inadequate; medication routes can be inappropriate; and so on. Furthermore, infections are also quite common. These are often surgical, catheter-associated, bloodstream infections, etc. (Wiegmann et al., 2016). Laboratory errors are also quite frequent. These include erroneous laboratory results, errors in reports, personal data errors, and so on. Wrong personal data can also lead to various adverse effects.

Typical causes

When it comes to major causes of human and system errors, they are rather different. As for human errors, they are often associated with insufficient training or experience, personal issues that became distractors, burnout, as well as poor communication (Wiegmann et al., 2016). System errors occur due to ineffective communication among healthcare professionals, which, in its turn, is related to information systems flaws (Carayon et al., 2014). Another reason is inadequate staffing that is a result of insufficient resources and funding. The use of inefficient human resources management and quality control systems also lead to various system errors.

Negative effects

One of the major adverse effects of medical errors is a considerable number of deaths in US healthcare facilities. It has been estimated that the rate of deaths has reached almost 2% of patients under Medicaid alone (Makary & Daniel, 2016). Healthcare facilities also have to face numerous financial losses as patients tend to go to court if a medical error occurs. Reputational losses should also be taken into account since people may seek other healthcare services providers if a healthcare facility becomes notorious for its medical errors rate. Medical errors may lead to an inadequate use of resources as wrong treatment, stay duration, and so on can take place. Healthcare professionals can be demotivated, which results in a high turnover rate.

Ways to address the issue

Researchers and practitioners have developed various strategies to address the issues associated with medical errors. The use of effective quality control systems is one of these methods. It is necessary to encourage healthcare professionals to report medical errors, improve investigation processes, introduce high standards of data collection and analysis, etc. The use of effective human resources management patterns is also critical. Communication patterns and the collaboration among healthcare practitioners should be effective. Therefore, appropriate information systems and communication channels should be utilized. Finally, it is essential to motivate healthcare professionals through the introduction of flexible schedules, reduction of the shortage of the staff, provision of extensive training.


In conclusion, it is necessary to emphasize that medical errors, both human and system, have a negative impact on patient health outcomes, patient experience and satisfaction. These issues also have a considerable adverse influence on the overall healthcare system as hospitals use resources ineffectively, can have financial constraints, have staffing issues and quality-associated problems. In order to address the issues related to medical errors, it is important to apply the work system approach. This paradigm implies the use of effective quality control management and human resources management. This approach does not lead to some kind of stigma but contributes to the development of effective prevention strategies. It is also necessary to add that all stakeholders including but not confined to healthcare professionals, policymakers, patients, and others, can contribute to the development of effective solutions.


Carayon, P., Wetterneck, T., Rivera-Rodriguez, A., Hundt, A., Hoonakker, P., Holden, R., & Gurses, A. (2014). Human factors systems approach to healthcare quality and patient safety. Applied Ergonomics, 45(1), 14-25.

Makary, M., & Daniel, M. (2016). Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US. British Medical Journal, 353(1), 1-5.

Wiegmann, D. A., Duff, S., & Blocker, R. (2016). In search of surgical excellence: A work systems approach. In P. Carayon (Ed.), Handbook of human factors and ergonomics in health care and patient safety (pp. 775-784). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

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StudyKraken. (2022) 'Medical Error: Human Error vs. System Error'. 31 August.

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