To Err is Human, a new documentary by filmmaker Mike Eisenberg, may leave you in tears. Even if you remain dry-eyed, this powerful teaching tool will inspire you and your staff to advocate for better patient safety. Eisenberg, the son of the late Dr. John Eisenberg, a patient safety pioneer and former Director of the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ), aims to raise awareness about the enormous public health problem of medical error in the United States.

The film startles with hard statistics, but it also speaks to the heart with a story of the Sheridans, a family forever altered by the two major medical mistakes. Sue Sheridan, a mother of two, recounts her devastating story: a son left disabled by cerebral palsy caused by undiagnosed jaundice at birth and a husband dead at 45, from cancer for which treatment was delayed due to a pathology report that was not communicated to him or his doctor.

The family’s story is a moving argument for the urgent need to improve patient safety. It is also a powerful example of the strength of human spirit. Sue is now a national patient safety advocate and the Director of Patient Engagement at the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. Her son with cerebral palsy, Cal, produces and performs stand-up comedy. Speaking to a large audience at a conference, Sue says, “I cannot change what happened to Cal and Pat. However, my families’ story is also a story of awakening, of passion, of change and hope for the future.”

The Sheridans’ tale is interspersed with interviews from patient safety pioneers. We learn two sobering statistics: that medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death and that they result in approximately 440,000 preventable deaths per year. “That is the equivalent of seven or eight airliners crashing every day with no survivors,” says one expert.

The film showcases technologies such as robotics that simulate procedures for health care providers in training and motion sensors that monitor hand washing. But, experts argue, improving safety is about more than just employing technological innovations. It is also about communication between physicians, nurses, health care workers, patients and family members. And it is about ensuring that frontline workers feel free to speak up about potentially dangerous situations or conditions. “Frontline people have to be able to say, ‘I saw something wrong,’” notes an expert.

To get more information about the film or book a screening at your facility, visit this website.

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