Professor Dorothy Keefe, from the University of Adelaide, presented at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Annual Scientific Meeting, exploring the current shortcomings of the health system and what needs to be improved.
She argued that “a culture of blame” is detrimental to improving Australian cancer care, and that the focus needs to shift to learning from mistakes and improving systems and processes.
“Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world and one of the world’s highest cancer survival rates. Yet media and social media have put a focus on finding villains whom we can blame for medical errors, and ending their careers. We need to ask ourselves – what does this achieve? A culture of fear and blame distracts from constructive learning and continual improvement. It also decreases our patients’ trust and creates a sense of ‘us versus them’.”
“Errors do rarely occur, but to move forward we need to learn from our mistakes. We also need to acknowledge the constantly evolving nature of cancer treatment and the need to balance clinical guidelines with individual treatment based on evolving evidence. We do need better processes and systems, as well as governance, and better communication with one another and with our patients. Clinicians should be able to adapt individual treatments for special circumstances, but they should also document their decisions appropriately so that there is a record of what they are doing, and why.”
Cancer survivor Grant Mundell also shared his personal experience following his diagnosis with a rare neuroendocrine tumour. His treatment included having his pancreas and part of his liver removed and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Reflecting on his experience, he believes that he received exceptional care – thanks partly to his healthcare team’s ability to balance risk with safety and quality care.
“I was lucky to be treated by a fantastic multidisciplinary cancer care team including surgeons, oncologists, radiotherapists and nurses. Working together the team proactively considered my situation from a range of perspectives and ultimately thought outside the box to improve my care. I feel very lucky to have had such a great team.”