Podcast #329 – Mike Eisenberg, The Film “To Err is Human” and the Patient Safety Emergency

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Joining me today for Episode #329 of the podcast is Mike Eisenberg, the director, editor, and producer of the film “To Err is Human,” a documentary about the incredibly important issue of patient safety. The film shares a title with the groundbreaking 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine.

The film is available on as a digital download (through iTunes and other platforms) and a Blu-ray or DVD (through Amazon) and there also screenings taking place around the country (and you can arrange one at your organization).

Eisenberg was able to interview many people who are very familiar to me, including Dr. Don Berwick, Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, Dr. Bob Wachter, Leah Binder, Lucian Leape, and others. Endorsements for the film come from some other big names in this movement, including Dr. Atul Gawande:

In our conversation, Mike and I talk about the scale and breadth of patient safety problems, some of the systemic causes, and some of the solutions that are being tried and used in healthcare. The term “Lean” is not a part of the film, but Mike said he's become aware of the alignment between Lean and systemic patient safety improvement, but there are limitations to what could be put into a 77-minute film. But, there are common themes including not blaming “bad apples” and improving the way care is delivered in a systematic way.

I had the opportunity to watch the film before the interview — it's very powerful and well produced. I hope you'll check out the film, whether you are a patient or a healthcare professional (or leader). It's important that we help the public understand that patient safety can't be taken for granted… and it's important that hospitals step up their efforts on this front.


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For a link to this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/329.

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS, through Android appsor via Apple Podcasts.  You can also subscribe and listen via Stitcher or Spotify.

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Some of Mark's Notes and Quotes from Watching the Film:

The opening image / quote from the film.
  • Patient safety is a “problem hiding in plain sight”
  • The goal is “zero harm,” not “zero errors” — people will make mistakes. We need to assume that errors will happen, so we need to create better systems.
  • One third of patients will experience an error during their hospital admission
  • President Bill Clinton made a speech and announcement in 2000 about cutting errors in half (NY Times article from 2000)
  • Lucian Leape, MD says patient safety is not a priority for hospital leaders
    • If you reduce medical harm, you can't advertise that… you anger the doctors
  • We have to reward openness and admission of errors, so you can learn and improve
  • Reporting rates drop if nothing is done because reporting is really voluntary even if you tell them to. High reporting rates must mean things are happening or people would stop reporting.
  • Leah Binder: Hospitals don't put their Leapfrog letter grade in the front window the way NYC restaurants do
  • Sully: Pilots make one error per hour, but they have robust systems
  • Dr. Ashish Jha: It's unfair to ask patients to sort this out but the reality is that it's necessary
  • Dr. Don Berwick: “It's not a matter of possibility, it's a matter of will.” 

Shareable Quotes from “To Err is Human”

Videos About “To Err is Human”

The official trailer
A panel discussion

Thanks for listening and please do check out the film.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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