A qualitative study of attitudes toward error in patients facing brain tumour surgery

Can J Neurol Sci. 2004 May;31(2):208-12. doi: 10.1017/s0317167100053841.


Background: Medical error is an extremely important component of patient safety and requires intense study. The present investigation undertook to examine patients' perceptions and attitudes regarding medical error.

Methods: Qualitative case study methodology was used. We conducted 30 face-to-face interviews with patients within one week of undergoing a neurosurgical operation for a brain tumour. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed and the data subjected to thematic analysis.

Results: Three overarching themes emerged from the data: 1) trust in the patient's surgeon was of paramount importance; 2) patients' views toward medical error varied between fear and vulnerability to no concern; and 3) discussion of error was felt to be beneficial as it could help the medical profession decrease future errors and could help dispel the patient's fear and anxiety about the upcoming surgery.

Conclusions: Patients' trust in their physician/surgeon is of paramount importance in allaying their fears about the possible occurrence and impact of medical error during their treatment. The level of concern about error varies among patients, but most felt that discussion of error was a good thing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Brain Neoplasms / psychology
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inpatients / psychology*
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Trust / psychology