Error in intensive care: psychological repercussions and defense mechanisms among health professionals

Alexandra Laurent, Laurence Aubert, Khadija Chahraoui, Antoine Bioy, Andre Mariage, Jean-Pierre Quenot, Gilles Capellier

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16 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To identify the psychological repercussions of an error on professionals in intensive care and to understand their evolution. To identify the psychological defense mechanisms used by professionals to cope with error. DESIGN: Qualitative study with clinical interviews. We transcribed recordings and analysed the data using an interpretative phenomenological analysis. SETTING: Two ICUs in the teaching hospitals of Besancon and Dijon (France). SUBJECTS: Fourteen professionals in intensive care (20 physicians and 20 nurses). INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: We conducted 40 individual semistructured interviews. The participants were invited to speak about the experience of error in ICU. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed thematically by three experts. In the month following the error, the professionals described feelings of guilt (53.8 ) and shame (42.5 ). These feelings were associated with anxiety states with rumination (37.5 ) and fear for the patient (23 ); a loss of confidence (32.5 ); an inability to verbalize one s error (22.5 ); questioning oneself at a professional level (20 ); and anger toward the team (15 ). In the long term, the error remains fixed in memory for many of the subjects (80 ); on one hand, for 72.5 , it was associated with an increase in vigilance and verifications in their professional practice, and on the other hand, for three professionals, it was associated with a loss of confidence. Finally, three professionals felt guilt which still persisted at the time of the interview. We also observed different defense mechanisms implemented by the professional to fight against the emotional load inherent in the error: verbalization (70 ), developing skills and knowledge (43 ), rejecting responsibility (32.5 ), and avoidance (23 ). We also observed a minimization (60 ) of the error during the interviews. CONCLUSIONS: It is important to take into account the psychological experience of error and the defense mechanis
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2370 - 2378
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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