The Effects of Telling Patients about Medical Errors. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:I-17. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-140-6-200403160-00001
Download citation file:
Published: Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(6):I-17.
Medical errors commonly occur in patient care and have received increasing attention by both the medical profession and the public. While it is unrealistic to expect that all medical errors can be prevented, doctors and ethicists agree that at the very least, patients should be informed when an error has occurred. But in practice, this information is often not communicated to the patient. Little is known about the effect of telling (or not telling) patients and their families about medical errors.
To find out how the disclosure of information about medical errors affects relationships between doctor and patient.
958 members of a health maintenance organization (HMO) who answered a mailed questionnaire.
The researchers developed a questionnaire evaluating how people responded to information that they received about the occurrence of a medical error. First, a short description of the facts and outcome of an error was presented along with a description of what the doctor said. The type of error, severity of its outcome, and completeness of the doctor's explanation varied in each description. Only 1 clinical story was presented to each study participant. They were asked to imagine themselves as the patient or the patient's family as they answered several questions about how the doctor's presentation would have affected their relationship to the doctor. The questions tried to determine whether the doctor's explanation would have prompted the patient to switch care to another doctor or seek legal advice, whether they would have been satisfied with the explanation, whether it would have changed the patient's level of trust in the doctor, and what their emotional response to the explanation would have been.
Telling the whole story was associated with better ratings of the doctor with regard to satisfaction, trust, and the patient's emotional response. Greater severity of outcome and less complete explanations were associated with an increased likelihood that the patient would want to change doctors. However, the relationship between these factors and the likelihood of being sued was complex, and telling the whole truth did not necessarily prevent legal action. On the other hand, telling the whole truth did not increase the likelihood of being sued.
Fictional cases may not accurately predict how a patient would react to a real situation. Furthermore, more than 90% of study participants were white and were somewhat more educated than the whole population. As a result, the findings may not have been accurate for people who were not members of this HMO.
Truthful and complete description of medical errors improves the way patients feel about the doctor but may not prevent legal action.
The In the Clinic® slide sets are owned and copyrighted by the American College of Physicians (ACP). All text, graphics, trademarks, and other intellectual property incorporated into the slide sets remain the sole and exclusive property of the ACP. The slide sets may be used only by the person who downloads or purchases them and only for the purpose of presenting them during not-for-profit educational activities. Users may incorporate the entire slide set or selected individual slides into their own teaching presentations but may not alter the content of the slides in any way or remove the ACP copyright notice. Users may make print copies for use as hand-outs for the audience the user is personally addressing but may not otherwise reproduce or distribute the slides by any means or media, including but not limited to sending them as e-mail attachments, posting them on Internet or Intranet sites, publishing them in meeting proceedings, or making them available for sale or distribution in any unauthorized form, without the express written permission of the ACP. Unauthorized use of the In the Clinic slide sets will constitute copyright infringement.
Healthcare Delivery and Policy.
Results provided by:
Copyright © 2016 American College of Physicians. All Rights Reserved.
Print ISSN: 0003-4819 | Online ISSN: 1539-3704
Conditions of Use
This PDF is available to Subscribers Only