Thursday, May 3, 2012

Secret Service falls for “system error” myth

I have blogged before about the fact that many organizations tend to react to bad outcomes due to human error by somehow turning them into so-called “system problems.” Link is here.

For example, a hospital I am familiar with reacts to human errors such as a resident failing to call for help when confronted with a patient who is crashing as follows: Instead of doing remedial work with the resident, the incident is labeled a system error. A task force is convened and after several meetings, a new directive is issued stating that certain patient-related events mandate a call to an upper level resident or an attending physician. Of course the next time a crashing patient is seen at 3 a.m., the problem will not involve one of the listed events. Like the sentinel event, the real problem is a human failure to recognize that a patient is in trouble.

Now comes news that the Secret Service is sending its agents to an intensive ethics training course at Johns Hopkins University.

What this says to me is that married Secret Service agents, who are entrusted with the protection of the President, do not realize that getting drunk and frolicking with prostitutes in a foreign country is wrong. Apparently, the Secret Service feels their people need ethics training to help them with such knotty issues.

What would happen if you asked a group of high school boys this question, “If you were a married Secret Service agent with the presidential entourage in say, South America, would it be all right if you got drunk at a strip club and took a prostitute back to your hotel?” Despite lacking formal ethics training, I bet most of them would probably answer, “No.”

There could be a system problem involving the Secret Service, but it’s not about ethics. Maybe it's related to the way in which agents are selected.

Like prospective medical students, candidates for jobs with the Secret Service may need to pass a test that reveals their warm and fuzzy side.

No, I don't think it's about a system problem with ethics. I say it's a lack of both character and common sense.

PS: I hope the ethics class touches on the subject of “A Deal is a Deal.” If you agree to pay someone $800.00 for their services when you know you have only $225.00, that is truly unethical.


BobbyG said...

"PS: I hope the ethics class touches on the subject of “A Deal is a Deal.” If you agree to pay someone $800.00 for their services when you know you have only $225.00, that is truly unethical."

Beyond welshing on, uh, a transient transactional "Oral Agreement," how about The Deal known as the Marriage Vow?

Skeptical Scalpel said...

You make a good point. I should have included it in the post. Thanks.

dddance2 said...

I think you are spot on & I wish I had worked around or for you while I was working. We seem doomed to repeat our mistakes (that old chestnut)applies not only to our history as Americans but also in the medical field. I still say it goes to being raised by parents (or parent, in some cases)who were raised w/ethics and principles. I tweet as @walk6miles due to my inexperience with computer-eze (but I am learning). Keep it coming, Doc!!

Skeptical Scalpel said...


Thanks for the kind comments. You are right about the parents.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.