Frederick Southwick and Reducing Medical Errors

Case Solution

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ai-Ling Jamila Malone, Jihea Kang
Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative ()

Medical errors occur at an alarming rate both in the US and around the world. In the United States, medical errors were the third leading cause of death. Southwick experienced firsthand the consequences of preventable medical errors. As a physician and teacher, he researched and wrote over the years on the causes and solutions of medical errors. Southwick has also launched pilot programs that apply various quality improvement frameworks from other fields to medicine. Although the results were positive, it met with resistance from many doctors. To develop further skills, Southwick became an Advanced Leadership Fellow in 2010 and a Senior Advanced Leadership Fellow in 2011. He used his time at Harvard to develop solutions that address the root causes of medical errors. The complexities of health care and ingrained cultural norms were strong barriers to creating change. The case examines Southwick’s efforts to engage healthcare professionals, collaborate, communicate effectively, and create a new sustainable culture that improves healthcare outcomes. Southwick’s experience raises the question of how one person can best make a difference in a large, complex, and entrenched system.

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