12 essential patient safety books for our worrying times

Hadiza Bawa-Garba has become the latest public face in a long-standing battle between two views of medical error. One sees errors as criminal and punishable acts, and censures individuals who make mistakes. The other views clinical mistakes as inevitable consequences of working in complex systems, and uses errors to ferret out systemic failings.

Giant “Big Mistake” Eraser. Sindy Lee on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sindy/6004027359

Are medical omissions and oversights symbols of shame, or are such lapses invaluable learning points? Should mistakes and errors be judged by their outcomes, and should the harshness of punishments be guided by public concerns? And what is the place of the victims of medical error? How should they be treated by the doctor, the hospital, and society? And could patients and their families play a role in preventing errors?

Honest Mistake. Sharon Sinclair on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/128745475@N07/19402991838

The Doctors Bookshelf has reviewed many important books on patient safety and human factors. These books shine a light on the causes and implications of clinical error, and guide us on how best to deal with the two victims – patient and doctor. This is a crucial time to revisit these books. Here then are our 12 best patient safety and human factors books.


To Err is Human 

Institute of Medicine 


Human Error in Medicine

Marilyn Sue Bognor (ed)


The Human Contribution 

James Reason


Patient Safety 

Charles Vincent


The Field Guide

Sidney Dekker


Safety at the Sharp End

Rhona Flin, et al


Minimizing Medical Mistakes

Richard Riegelman


Beyond the Checklist

Suzanne Gordon, et al


How Doctors Think

Jerome Groopman


After Harm

Nancy Berlinger


Talking to Patients and Families about Medical Error

Robert Troug, et al


The Patient’s Guide to Preventing Medical Errors

Karin Bernsten



The only people who don’t make mistakes don’t make anything. Jo Mcleay on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/30688696@N00/4273127259

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