Send to

Choose Destination
J Gen Intern Med. 2019 Jul 10. doi: 10.1007/s11606-019-05156-7. [Epub ahead of print]

Strengthening the Medical Error "Meme Pool".

Author information

Department of Pathology, Yale University School of Medicine, 310 Cedar Street LH 108, PO Box 208023, New Haven, CT, 06520, USA.
Aptitude Health, Atlanta, GA, USA.


The exact number of patients in the USA who die from preventable medical errors each year is highly debated. Despite uncertainty in the underlying science, two very large estimates have spread rapidly through both the academic and popular media. We utilize Richard Dawkins' concept of the "meme" to explore why these imprecise estimates remain so compelling, and examine what potential harms can occur from their dissemination. We conclude by suggesting that instead of simply providing more precise estimates, physicians should encourage nuance in public medical error discussions, and strive to provide narrative context about the reality of the complex biological and social systems in which we practice medicine.


media; medical error; patient safety; quality improvement


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Springer
Loading ...
Support Center