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Dr Carl de Wet.

A significant minority of patients suffer preventable harm as a result of the healthcare they receive, according to researcher, Dr Carl de Wet.

Speaking during his presentation at UKZN titled: “Why the Best Health Care Professionals Often Make the Worst Mistakes”, de Wet said: ‘This happens despite the fact that healthcare professionals are typically hard working, motivated to deliver high quality care and receive extensive training.’

De Wet explained there were at least four different reasons for this: human limitations; systems and technical failures; lack of a safety culture; and because of efficiency-thoroughness trade-offs (ETTOs).

‘To improve the safety of care we not only need to identify and reduce patient safety incidents but also need to celebrate success and value and improve resilience,’ de Wet said.

He explained that people had natural limitations which naturally predispose them to make the same kind of errors under stress. However, ‘we also have adaptive mechanisms that normally allow us to effectively deal with new and challenging situations’.

He said a safety culture was important because it shaped the discretionary behaviour of individuals, teams and organisations. ‘Becoming aware of, measuring and building a strong, positive safety culture therefore helps to prevent patient safety incidents.’

A cause of safety incidents was when ETTOs that usually helped healthcare professionals deliver effective care, led to error because of resonance. ‘The implication is to increase resilience through its four characteristics: respond, monitor, learn and anticipate.’

De Wet graduated from the University of Pretoria in 2000 and in 2008 he completed a Higher Academic Fellowship with NHS Education from Scotland.

He is a fellow of the Royal Colleges of General Practitioners in the United Kingdom and Australia and has contributed to a wide range of research projects, presented the findings at multiple national and international conferences and published the findings in peer reviewed journals, books and reports.

His current research topics include the epidemiology of harm in primary care, missed diagnostic opportunities and normalisation process theory.

He currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, and is affiliated with the University of Griffith in Queensland.