It has been getting a little quieter around the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico while the oil is now washed ashore Northwestern Florida (as predicted in this simulation). Time to think about how this situation compares to health care.
In health care, each year millions of mistakes are made. Some are trivial. Some are serious but caught before harm occurs (termed 'near misses'). Some are lethal. Some are thought to be unavoidable (thought they might not be).
Here is a single patient story. I am warning you: this quite a tough one to watch. To me, this is the perfect imperative for improvements in quality and safety.
Click here if you cannot see the video.
Lucian Leape, one of my professors at the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote in an 1994 JAMA article that an estimated 180,000 patients die every year from severe iatrogenic (that means: caused by health care providers, often in an attempt to cure or alleviate) adverse events, "the equivalent of three jumbo jet crashes every two days". Wow.
What does this have to do with BP's Safety and PR?
I think that both in oil spills and severe iatrogenic adverse events, the perpetrator needs to apologize. The apology should occur early and be genuine. There should be no restricted areas; everything that happened should be studied and explained. Most importantly, the perpetrator should show how they plan to implement steps to prevent this or similar kinds of events from ever occurring again.
If BP took this to heart, they would be the safest and most transparent oil company five years down the road.