Eradicating the error margin in the scientific-medical arena is a pipe dream, and time spent pursuing such a goal is inevitably wasted. It is, however, possible to reduce risk by implementing policies and practices based on an analysis of how models of error relate to clinical

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Models of error have a useful role, helping to identify weaknesses, providing troubleshooting fodder for action plans, and generally raising the safety bar for those delivering and receiving clinical practices. Of course, this is only true if they are identified, evaluated and implemented honestly.

Definitions of error

These are generally categorised as either human or system errors. Human error blames the individual, who is perceived as being stupid, lazy or tired, while system error focuses on issues such as under-resourcing/funding, overworking, and inadequate polices.

Human error places the blame on the individual, generally working on the front line of health care in the role of doctor, nurse, or pharmacist, and it is the underpinning factor of “blame culture”. System culture, on the other hand, assumes that human beings make mistakes sometimes, shifting the focus for improvement on the conditions in which people are working.

Typical errors in clinical trials

These range from poorly designed trial programmes and inaccurate dosing of drugs to inadequate knowledge of potential side effects or adverse reactions. Blame for errors in this field tends to fall largely on the front line staff, such as nurses, pharmacists, and doctors, placing the blame and the shame directly onto their shoulders. However, reports indicate that 90 per cent of errors are not related to human failings, so the focus should shift from people to the systems they are trying to work within.

How to reduce or avoid errors in clinical trials

If incidents of human error in clinical trials are to be reduced, the system the trials are delivered within needs to be overhauled. Active steps must be taken to deal with immediate issues. For example, hiring front line staff from respected contract research organization providers such as while simultaneously beginning the long-term job of discouraging blame culture with its fear and anxiety and encouraging honesty and free reporting of concerns can go a long way.

Even though errors in clinical trials are not an overwhelming problem, the drive to create a positive sharing atmosphere remains paramount.