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The Hippocratic Oath is one of the oldest binding documents in history. While the classical oath calls for “the opposite” of pleasure and fame for those who transgress the oath, fewer than half of oaths taken today insist the taker be held accountable for keeping the pledge. Some doctors see oath-taking as little more than a pro-forma ritual with little value beyond that of upholding tradition, but how far have modern Physicians come from the Hippocratic Oath as it was intended to protect patients in doing no harm?
Intensive Care Medicine published a study on medical errors in 2001. Five American intensive care units hosting a total of 851 adult patients were reviewed. The study concluded, “Of 5,744 observations in 851 patients, 187 (3.3%) medication administration errors were detected. the therapeutic classes most commonly associated with errors were vasoactive drugs 61 (32.6%) and sedative/analgesics 48 (25.7%).”
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report called To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. In the report, it was estimated that as many as 98,000 hospital deaths per year were a result of hospital errors. While regulatory authorities sprang to action, putting reporting systems in place and trying to enforce accountability, some recognized that the additional structures would not be enough. Physicians need to be aware of themselves so that errors could be turned around quickly and patients would not suffer consequences.
This is the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath:
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.
I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.