A problem shared...? Teamwork, autonomy and error in assisted conception

Kerr, A. (2009) A problem shared...? Teamwork, autonomy and error in assisted conception. Social Science and Medicine, 69(12), pp. 1741-1749. (doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.09.045) (PMID:19836869)

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This paper explores the benefits and drawbacks of new team-based approaches to error management in medicine through a case study of teamwork, double witnessing and incident reporting in assisted conception clinics in the UK. This is based upon the analysis of a series of semi-structured interviews with people working in assisted conception clinics and two periods of ethnography in clinics, conducted between 2004 and 2007, as part of an ESRC-funded study on the ethics of assisted conception and embryo research. In common with other studies of practitioners' management of error, I identify a series of tensions around individual and collective autonomy in identifying and preventing error, for the assisted conception team as a whole, and for particular groups within it, notably consultants and embryologists. I found that team-based approaches could create the conditions for error to occur when it undermined independent thinking, responsibility or concentration. There was also a danger that teamwork could come to be associated with particular ‘technical’ practices or occupational groups, diminishing its relevance and value in clinical settings. I, therefore, conclude that team-based approaches and professional autonomy have their ‘dark’ as well as their ‘light’ sides (Vaughan, D. (1999). The dark side of organisations: mistake, misconduct, and disaster. Annual Review of Sociology, 25, 271–305). Errors cannot be prevented in their entirety, but they can be well managed when teamwork and autonomy are complementary. Drawing on Reason (Reason, J. (2004). Beyond the organisational accident: the need for “error wisdom” on the frontline. Quality Safety in Health Care, 12, ii28–ii33), I argue that informed vigilance and intelligent wariness in a necessary compliment to systems-based approaches to error management in assisted conception in particular, and medicine in general.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Kerr, Professor Anne
Authors: Kerr, A.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Journal Name:Social Science and Medicine
ISSN (Online):1873-5347
Published Online:15 October 2009

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