What patients really want physicians to do after a medical error

After a medical error leads to a serious injury, patients and family members want physicians to better communicate the hospital's efforts to prevent a similar error from occurring again, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers interviewed 27 patients, three family members and 10 staff members from three hospitals with communication-and-resolution programs in place to address medical errors. Every patient interviewed either accepted a malpractice settlement or were injured too long ago to file suit.

Here are six study findings.

  1. Twenty-seven of 30 patients and family members received compensation.

  1. Eighteen patients continued to seek care at the hospital where the mistake took place.

  1. Patient satisfaction was highest after medical errors when hospital communication was friendly and included compensation.

  1. Patients and family members demonstrated a strong desire to be heard after a medical error took place and expected the physician involved with the case to listen to their feelings about the situation.

  1. They also wanted to know how the hospital would prevent errors in the future, but only six of 30 family members and patients received this information.

  1. Thirty-five of 40 respondents thought it was helpful to have plaintiffs' lawyers join conversations about the errors.

"When things go wrong in the hospital, doctors tend to be focused on doing what they do best: conveying medical information and treating the patient," senior study author Michelle Mello, PhD, a law professor at Stanford (Calif.) University, told Reuters. "They may not realize that what many patients and families need is for them to stop talking and listen attentively to what families have to say about how the adverse event affected them, without redirecting the conversation to clinical issues."

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