How to Help Clinicians Navigate Uncertainty Following a Harm Event 

May 19, 2022

By Loie Lenarz, MD, Constellation Peer Support Consultant

I recently talked with a seasoned obstetrician who had been involved in a medical adverse event. Two weeks after the incident she said, “I’m almost to the point where I can discuss the case without having chest pain.” Even in hindsight, she didn’t believe she could have anticipated a baby that was born with an initial Apgar of 0, yet she described being “very shaken” by the situation. She mentioned that, even though she knew it made no sense, she found herself second-guessing how she practiced. Should she be more aggressive in intervening during labor? Was she a good doctor? Should she throw in the towel and retire a few years earlier than she had planned?

These questions, and the feelings that arise with them, are extremely common for physicians who have experienced an adverse event. We are a perfectionistic lot, and overly responsible on top of that.

“In my work as a Constellation peer support consultant, I assist physicians who have experienced an adverse event and nearly all have expressed deep sadness for the patient or senior living resident, as well as a sense of guilt, even when they don’t believe they made a mistake. This sense of great responsibility is nearly universal. Many physicians report difficulty sleeping, distraction at home and at work, and anxiety.”

Adverse events cause enormous suffering, not just for the patient or senior living resident, but for the clinician as well. Over the past decade, the cost of that suffering has been clearly documented. The psychological harm, sometimes referred to as secondary trauma or moral injury, is very real, but the costs reach beyond that. There is clear evidence that clinical quality, the patient experience and financial performance also suffer when a clinician has faced an adverse event.

Constellation’s Clinician Peer Support Program—You’re not alone

As part of Constellation’s HEAL program, the Clinician Peer Support Program (CPSP) aims to help clinicians navigate the uncertainty of a medical incident, claim or lawsuit, and maintain the strength and perspective to continue to see patients, work productively with others and still find satisfaction in what they do.

This program allows us to provide something simple yet essential to clinicians who have experienced an adverse event, and to mitigate the effect that the event has on them. Perhaps the most important thing that the members of the CPSP do for our clinicians is listen to them and let them know they are not alone in what they’re experiencing.

For clinicians, hearing that many others have felt the way they are feeling, and hearing what they can expect during the process of their claim, gives nearly all of them a significant sense of relief. I can’t tell you how often I hear, “Thank you for talking with me today. I feel much better. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”

How the program works

Clinicians facing a harm event, claim or lawsuit are connected with a Constellation peer support consultant who is a physician or nurse peer. The consultant simply listens to their concerns, helps them navigate the anxieties of the process and connects them with other resources. The focus is on the involved clinician or care team member and how they are coping.

When clinicians are supported in managing their emotional wellbeing, they’re more likely to continue to be focused, productive members of the care team, remain with their practice instead of pursuing other employment or retiring early, and maintain a healthy trust in themselves and their patients.

Watch the webinar

Our webinar, Helping Clinicians Navigate Uncertainty Following Harm Events, features Dr. Loie Lenarz, one of Constellation’s Peer Support Consultants. Dr. Lenarz is a family medicine physician who works with clinicians and teams to help them develop their capacity to lead and to maintain resilience and passion in their work. She recently retired from her practice and is eager to help others challenged by the emotional stress that patient harm events can cause, whether they lead to malpractice claims or not.

Constellation’s HEAL program provides healing benefits for care teams and their organizations because we truly believe that what’s good for care teams is good for business.

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