Medical errors-what and when: what do patients want to know?

Acad Emerg Med. 2002 Nov;9(11):1156-61. doi: 10.1197/aemj.9.11.1156.


Objectives: 1) To determine how and when emergency department (ED) patients and their families wish to learn of health care errors. 2) To assess the error threshold this population believes should trigger reporting to government agencies, state medical boards, and hospital patient safety committees. 3) To evaluate the role patients and families believe medical educators should play in this process.

Methods: A 12-item survey was administered to a convenience sample of ED patients and families during evaluation in a tertiary care academic ED. Results were tabulated and data were reported as percentages. Statistical significance was analyzed using the chi-square test.

Results: 258 surveys were returned (80%). A majority of respondents wished to be informed immediately of any medical error (76%) and to have full disclosure of the error's extent (88%). An overwhelming majority of respondents endorse reporting of errors to government agencies (92%), state medical boards (97%), and hospital committees (99%). Most respondents believe medical educators should focus on teaching students to be honest and compassionate (38%) or on how to tell patients about mistakes (25%). The frequency of hospital admission or physician visits per year had no impact on any response pattern (ns with chi(2) test).

Conclusions: Regardless of health care utilization, a majority of respondents want full disclosure of medical error and wish to be informed of error immediately upon its detection. Respondents support reporting of errors to government agencies, the state medical board, and hospital committees focused on patient safety. Teaching physicians error disclosure techniques, honesty, and compassion were endorsed as a priority for educators who teach error management.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Decision Making
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United States