A Q&A With Me in Today’s New York Times

By  |  December 18, 2009 | 

The interview, by Pauline Chen, the surgeon and NY Times author who writes the terrific “Doctor and Patient” column on-line, is here — it mostly focuses on my thoughts about patient safety 10 years into the movement. The story and topic were also picked up by Tara Parker-Pope in her “Well” blog, and the comments are already coming fast and furious. I had put the Kevlar vest away after the feedback from my New England Journal piece on “‘no blame’ vs. accountability” turned out to be surprisingly benign, but I may need to pull it out of deep storage. Patient safety generates such deep passions; it’s one of the things that makes thinking about and trying to improve it so damn interesting.

I’ve taken a bit of a blog break but will have a couple of pre-holiday posts in the next few days, one on our Root Cause Analysis epiphany at UCSF, and another one profiling the most creative researcher in all of medicine. Stay tuned. 



  1. Molly Coye December 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    Hi Bob – I’m on east coast time so saw this early – great interview and tough line to sell. Maybe more personal accountability will cause clinicians to actually press for the system changes that can support better performance on their part – like adopting CPOE…Molly

  2. Terry December 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    “The challenge, though, is to standardize care in a way that will improve safety while retaining the parts that make medicine human.”

    Sounds like a good way to define “meaningful use” in the HITECH world.

  3. Robert December 19, 2009 at 1:05 am - Reply

    Dr. Wachter gave a great interview. I agree that there is a lot more that needs to be done to improve patient safety.

  4. Brian Clay, MD December 19, 2009 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Read through the WellBlog comment thread. You don’t need Kevlar, you need a fully stocked concrete bunker!

    10 years on, and we just need to keep pushing. In my own patient safety work areas (IT/CPOE/medication reconciliation), it’s easily recognizable as a marathon, not a sprint.

    Ever forward.

  5. Siva Subramanian December 31, 2009 at 1:22 pm - Reply

    Great interview and looks like a serious discussion in the photograph 🙂

    One particular comment you make is of particular interest to me –
    “You can standardize certain parts of care based on clear evidence, which will free up doctors to focus on those pieces of the health care puzzle where there is no data — those issues that are uniquely human and that require judgment, expertise and empathy.”

    I have been researching the discharge process and its implications to preventable readmissions. There seem to be enough good reasons to improve discharge process in addition to reduction of readmissions (patient safety). There also seems to be a mountain of data around what works, what is broken, what are best practices etc. And yet, I have not come across any effort to “standardize” the discharge process.

    Would this be one of the areas that you would recommend standardization of care per your comment? Has there been any attempt to drive such standardization of discharge processes or at least the discharge summary? Can you or your readers shed some light on this?


    Health IT Guy

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About the Author:

Robert M. Wachter, MD is Professor and Interim Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he holds the Lynne and Marc Benioff Endowed Chair in Hospital Medicine. He is also Chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine. He has published 250 articles and 6 books in the fields of quality, safety, and health policy. He coined the term hospitalist” in a 1996 New England Journal of Medicine article and is past-president of the Society of Hospital Medicine. He is generally considered the academic leader of the hospitalist movement, the fastest growing specialty in the history of modern medicine. He is also a national leader in the fields of patient safety and healthcare quality. He is editor of AHRQ WebM&M, a case-based patient safety journal on the Web, and AHRQ Patient Safety Network, the leading federal patient safety portal. Together, the sites receive nearly one million unique visits each year. He received one of the 2004 John M. Eisenberg Awards, the nation’s top honor in patient safety and quality. He has been selected as one of the 50 most influential physician-executives in the U.S. by Modern Healthcare magazine for the past eight years, the only academic physician to achieve this distinction; in 2015 he was #1 on the list. He is a former chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and has served on the healthcare advisory boards of several companies, including Google. His 2015 book, The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age, was a New York Times science bestseller.


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