Trust in Doctor May Affect Reaction to Medical Error

MONDAY Nov. 29, 2010 -- Patients who trust that their doctor would tell them about a medical error are much more forgiving than those who doubt their physician would own up to the mistake, a new study finds.

But being more forgiving doesn't mean patients are less likely to sue.

Researchers surveyed a representative sample of Illinois residents and found that about 40 percent had personal experience with medical errors or had a family member or close friend who had been affected by a medical error.

Only 10 percent of respondents believed their doctors would be "very likely" to tell them if a medical error occurred. About 25 percent said they would file a medical malpractice lawsuit if they were told about a medical error. Those who said they trusted their doctor were no less or more likely to sue.

Among respondents who were the most confident that their doctor would disclose the error, 60 percent said they would still recommend the doctor, compared with 30 percent of those who were skeptical about medical error disclosure.

The study is published in the November issue of the journal Medical Care.

"It appears that patients' responses to actual medical error disclosure vary by their perception of the providers' likelihood to disclose medical errors in principle, rather than the level of information revealed," Lorens A. Helmchen, of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and co-authors said in a news release from the journal publisher.

Establishing a clear policy on error disclosure may help health-care providers fulfill their obligation to tell patients about errors while minimizing the legal and professional damage caused by disclosure, the researchers concluded.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips to prevent medical errors.

Posted: November 2010


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