I can't stand the pillar the medical profession puts itself on. Let's run down the list of examples for how the medical profession doesn't give a shit about patients, shall we?
- We're forced to be seen by inexperienced, sleep-deprived, overburdened, overworked trainees. We don't allow truckers to drive more than X hours in Y days and the medical profession has proven lack of sleep impacts mental abilities. But med student hours? Sky's the limit, and it's common knowledge that you're supposed to fake your timesheets now that hospitals "track" this and have "policies."
- Medication errors cause 1.3 million injuries a year. Let's be clear here: Dr. I-Swore-An-Oath apparently can't be bothered to slow down and PRINT CLEARLY on your prescription form.
- Surgeons routinely fuck up "which leg" or "which eye." They're taught all sorts of anatomy, except they can't seem to figure out "left" versus "right"
- Despite the fact that hospitals are increasingly a cesspool of MRSA and other diseases, we continue to cling to the idea that we should treat people with transmissible diseases in close proximity to others, instead of having doctors travel to the sick patients, treat them, disinfect, and move on to the next patient. Gee, what could possibly go wrong with concentrating sick and weak people in one area?
As a physician I'm quite interested in the subject. :-) Things have been bad in the past, but is getting better on all fronts. Let's take your issues one at a time:
There's a cap placed on residency hours per week and hours in a row, now. Yes, it's sometimes broken, but it's a lot better than 20 years ago. And, no, it's not routine practice to fake your timesheets. Or at least where I trained ~15 years ago, and not in the training program I assist overseeing. That being said, in some subspecialty fellowships I wouldn't doubt that it's more common to do this -- But they do this to gain more experience as you may only get a once in a decade experience if you stay on call and extra 2 hours. Who would deprive themselves that?
Penmanship is not taught in medical school. But electronic perscriptions are becoming more commonplace in the last few years (both on the outpatient and inpatient sides). And the last couple decades have brought on more responsibility of the patient to know what they are taking. The outpatient medication errors are the combined fault of the physician, the pharmacist, and the patient.
I wouldn't say that anyone routinely operates on the wrong body part. But mistakes do happen. It's now standard of care to do a "time out" with the patient, nurse, and physician all in the operating room to agree on the patient's name, date of birth, and procedure to be performed before any sedation is administered or incisions are performed. But I once had a patient respond to a different name who expected to have the same procedure performed. Fortunately he was tripped up by the date of birth.
As for washing hands, that's a culture change. My hospital has random people anonymously assigned to watch people enter and leave patient rooms to make sure we always wash in and out. (The people are people that work on the floors anyway.) A couple verbal warnings and suddenly everyone's compliant. No need for technology.
And the younger generation of physicians are more humble. But that's also because they tread medicine as more of a job and less of a calling. I guess you can't get everything. :-(