Research on Physician Disclosure of Medical Errors to Patients
MedSun: Newsletter #8, October 2006

In two articles in the August 14/28, 2006, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine (Arch Intern
Med. 2006: 166:1585-1593 and 1605-1611), University of Washington researcher Thomas H.
Gallagher, M.D., and his colleagues reported on findings of a mailed survey to 2,637 U.S. and
Canadian physicians (response rate 62.9 percent) of their attitudes toward physician communication of medical errors to patients.

“Choosing Your Words Carefully: How Physicians Would Disclose Harmful Medical Errors to Patients” describes wide variation in the type and amount of information that respondents are willing to disclose. Researchers noted that both the nature of the error and the physician’s specialty affect disclosure. Further, they concluded that disclosure standards and training are necessary in order for physicians to meet patient expectations and to fulfill their professional obligations.

In “U.S. and Canadian Physicians' Attitudes and Experiences Regarding Disclosing Errors to Patients,” the researchers reported that though the physicians work in differing malpractice environments, respondents from both countries had similar experiences and mixed feelings about disclosure of medical error. The authors recommend that the medical profession address obstacles to transparency within its culture.

Additional Information:

The findings from this study are discussed in an August 17, 2006, article in The Seattle Times

The findings from this study are discussed in a September 9, 2006, editorial in The New York Times

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