Blame culture can be defined as the attitude of a person or a group of people of not accepting the responsibility for making a mistake in order to avoid the risk of being criticized or prosecuted. This phenomenon has infiltrated every part of modern society, especially in the Western world in the last 50 years. Cancer patients suing the tobacco companies, obese people blaming the fast food companies for their condition, malpractice cases in the medical practices, etc., are a few of the many examples of blame culture. This is sometimes also referred to as compensation culture. An extreme example of this culture was a burglar suing the household for getting hurt while he was in the act.
The blame culture has become a major nuisance in the healthcare industry. Many millions of dollars are being paid out to patients each year in personal damage cases. It is hard for anyone to report or admit a medical error, especially if it has caused any harm to the patient. The individual involved is afraid of being blamed and punished for the error committed. Often, reporting errors damages professional image, self-confidence, and eventually one’s practice in the competitive environment of medical and health services. It is challenging to maintain professional and institutional accountability along with increased public safety and quality of service.
To find a way to reduce the rate of medication error, the government of Great Britain established the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) in July 2001. NPSA has launched a nationwide reporting scheme for recording actual medication errors and near misses across the National Health Service to analyze the root causes. The goal of this program is to discourage the blame culture by viewing those who report the errors as heroes. It is, however, important to clarify where and how the professional responsibility fits into the “no blame” culture.
It is not unexpected that when something goes wrong people try to find an explanation and hold someone accountable. But blaming others instead of taking personal responsibility for any misfortune or wrongdoing and trying to obtain compensation has become part of modern culture in the United States and Europe. As a result, the corporations, the institutions, and the general public are all spending an excessive amount of time, energy, and money in innumerous frivolous lawsuits in mostly Western societies. In New Zealand, for example, within the first few years of the introduction in 1974 of the “no fault” principle for accidents, the accident rate increased by 40 percent from people taking advantage of the ACC benefits. Quickly tougher policies were introduced to avoid bankruptcy from the escalating costs.
It is not merely a coincidence that the blame culture is more prominent in the countries with the highest numbers of legal professionals. The United States is at the top of the list of countries with the most lawyers per person (1 lawyer per 265 Americans), followed by Brazil, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France in 2007. The increasing numbers of legal personnel have improved accessibility and communications with the public directly, or through media like television ads. They have been very persuasive in encouraging the cultural shift from personal accountability to blaming others.
The financial well-being of the advanced countries is more than ever tied to the rest of the world. Developing countries like China and India are experiencing economic prosperity that was unimaginable in the near past. However, their legal systems and personnel are not yet as established as in the United States and Europe. Hence their societies still focus on personal accountability. It is the obligation of the advanced countries to direct their societies toward “no blame culture,” which not only will help to stop the financial bleeding of institutions, government, and corporations in their own countries, but also will prevent the nationals from emerging countries from taking the same path toward “blame culture.”
- Michael Bassett, The Blame Culture (DOM/ PRESS, 2004);
- Jane Galt, “Lawsuit Culture,” www.janegalt.net (cited March 2009);
- McArdle, N. Burns, and A. Ireland “Attitudes and Beliefs of Doctors Towards Medication Error Reporting,” International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance (v.16, 2003);
- Alan Nathan, “Reporting Errors: Can a ‘Fair Blame Culture’ Really Work for Pharmacists?” The Pharmaceutical Journal (v. 272);
- Jeffrey O’Connell and Joseph R. Baldwin, “(In)juries, (In)justice, and (Il)legal Blame: Tort Law as Melodrama—or is Farce?” UCLA Law Review (v.50/2, 2002);
- Michael Pearn, Chris Mulrooney, and Tim Payne, Ending the Blame Culture (Gower Publishing Ltd., 1998);
- David Pollitt, “Track-Supervisor Training Transforms Attitudes and Culture at Tube Lines,” Training and Management Development Methods (v.21/3, 2007);
- Tim van Zwanenberg, “Clinical Governance in Primary Care: From Blind-eye to No-blame Culture in One Short Leap?” British Journal of Clinical Governance (v.6/2, 2001).