An important element of how adverse events are handled is effective communication between health care providers and patients and their families. This review addresses the main questions: What do patients expect in the aftermath of an adverse event? What is known about the practice of open disclosure? How can organizations support health care providers in the aftermath of an adverse event, both professionally and personally? Patients clearly expect open disclosure to include an explanation of what happened, an apology for harm done, that appropriate remedial action will be taken and an explanation of what will be done to learn from the event and to prevent recurrence. Research has found that open disclosure is not very common although the ethical duty to disclose is widely acknowledged. Barriers to open disclosure include discomfort and a lack of training how to disclose, a fear of litigation, a culture of infallibility among health professionals, and inadequate systems for analysis, discussion and learning from mistakes. Significant commitment is required from health care organizations and managers to develop frameworks for open disclosure to occur, to assure its quality and to support health care providers in this process. Organizations also need to address the emotional needs of health care professionals in the aftermath of an adverse event. Last but not least, adequate systems for debriefing and incident analysis need to be in place to learn from adverse events and to avoid recurrence.