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Perm J. 2017;21. doi: 10.7812/TPP/16-181.

To Err is Human: Can American Medicine Learn from Past Mistakes?

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Retired Chief of Cardiology of the Kaiser Richmond Medical Center; he is the Clinical Coordinator and Associate Professor in the Joint MSPAS/MPH Program at Touro University in Vallejo, CA.


The history of medicine includes many errors. Some persisted for decades and caused great harm. Several are highlighted in this article, including the mythical thymic diseases: thymic asthma and status thymicolymphaticus. Some medical mistakes, such as the diet-heart hypothesis of Ancel Keys, continue to cause harm. To avoid future errors and their associated harm, I suggest a cultural shift encouraging professional humility and greater questioning of medical dogma. Medical education focused on teaching students this history may help with this cultural shift.

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