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Medical error disclosure: the gap between attitude and practice


Background This study aims to evaluate the attending surgeons' and residents' attitudes towards error disclosure and factors that can potentially affect these tendencies in major academic hospitals affiliated with Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS).

Methods and material In a cross-sectional study, self-administered questionnaires were delivered to all attending surgeons and second to fourth year surgical residents of TUMS during October and November 2009. The questionnaire contained two clinical scenarios and questions regarding physicians' attitudes towards disclosing medical error and their actual practice in the case of their last error. Of the 63 distributed questionnaires, 53 (84.1%) were completed and returned.

Results Participants were less likely to disclose minor (39.6%; 21/53) than major (49.1%; 29/53) medical errors. Participants believed that their most important concerns for not disclosing errors were fear of a malpractice lawsuit (71.7%, n=38), losing patients' trust (62.3%, n=33), and emotional reactions of the patients and their relatives (56.6%, n=30). Although most physicians indicated they would disclose errors in minor and major scenarios, only 16.7% (n=8) had disclosed their last medical errors to their patients, two of which had resulted in patients taking legal action.

Conclusion There was an obvious gap between surgeons' intentions and actual practices concerning disclosure of medical error. Education in medical error management to professionally support error disclosure might help reduce the gap.

  • Medical error
  • disclosure
  • surgeon
  • academic attending surgeon
  • residents
  • ethics
  • medical ethics
  • breast surgery

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