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PSNet: Patient Safety Network
Journal Article

Choosing your words carefully: how physicians would disclose harmful medical errors to patients.

Gallagher TH, Garbutt JM, Waterman AD, et al. Archives of internal medicine. 2006;166:1585-93.

This study surveyed 2637 medical specialists and surgeons regarding how they would disclose harmful medical errors to patients. Prior research revealed that patients wanted the physicians to apologize for the error, explain how it occurred, and discuss how such errors could be prevented in the future. Whereas most respondents in this study supported error disclosure in general, only a minority of medical specialists and surgeons would explicitly inform the patient, especially for less clinically significant errors. Approximately half of respondents declined to explain how the error occurred or discuss specific plans to prevent such errors in the future. Most respondents would explicitly apologize to patients, although surgeons were significantly less likely to do so than medical specialists. A companion study explored factors influencing physician's support for full disclosure of medical errors.