Doctors, risk managers view apologies, error disclosure, differently

A new study looking at medical errors shows that while risk managers are more likely to want an error disclosed to a patient, a physician is more likely to want to issue an apology to patients. The difference in attitudes and perspective may reduce the effectiveness of risk management.

Through anonymous surveys of 3,000 risk managers and 1,300 physicians, the "Risk Managers, Physicians, and Disclosure of Harmful Medical Errors" study found that:

  • More risk managers (81 percent) than physicians (39 percent) were aware that an error-reporting system was present at their hospital.
  • More risk managers than physicians strongly agreed that serious errors should be disclosed to patients (70 percent versus 49 percent).
  • Physicians (39 percent) were more likely than risk managers (21 percent) to provide a full apology recognizing the harm caused.

Risk managers also had more favorable attitudes about the procedures in place to inform doctors about errors.

"Fulfilling patients' expectations for full disclosure of medical errors remains a complicated process," said lead author David J. Loren, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pediatrics, at the University of Washington, Seattle.

Authors of the study, printed in the Journal of Quality and Patient Safety, urge closer collaboration between risk managers and physicians in the disclosure process. Hospital policy also needs to state who has final authority over disclosure and how these disclosures occur.

To read more:
- see the study's news release

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