Most PCPs would only partially disclose medical errors, survey reveals

Most primary care physicians would not fully disclose information about a harmful medical error to patients, according to a recent survey conducted by Georgia State University and published in the journal BMJ Quality and Safety.

The survey, completed by more than 300 primary care physicians from integrated healthcare delivery systems in Washington, Massachusetts and Georgia, offered two hypothetical scenarios in an oncology setting. The first involved a delayed breast cancer diagnosis. The second involved a delayed response to patient symptoms due to a failure in care coordination. Multiple physicians were responsible for both errors.

Seventy-seven percent of respondents in the first scenario and 58 percent of respondents in the second scenario said they would not offer information or they would vaguely reference miscommunication as the source of the error, according to the report. The majority of respondents in both cases said they would not volunteer an apology.

Researchers also explored the factors that influence a physician's decision to disclose a medical error to a patient, take responsibility and offer an apology. They found physicians were more likely to disclose a medical error if they had a sense of personal responsibility for the event, if they felt it was serious or if they put a premium on patient communication.

"The intent to disclose was not as frequent as we thought it might be," said Douglas Roblin, PhD, professor in the division of health management and policy in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University and researcher at the Center for Clinical and Outcomes Research at Kaiser Permanente Georgia, according to GSU. "The two vignettes gave pretty consistent findings. The majority would not fully disclose, and we were hoping for full disclosure because that is the ethical expectation."


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