Background: It is important for physicians to disclose medical errors to institutions (for patient safety), to colleagues (for professional learning), and to patients (as part of direct patient care), but no comprehensive review of factors that may facilitate or impede disclosure has been undertaken.
Methods: A MEDLINE search was conducted of English-language articles published from 1975-2004, with review of bibliographies. A total of 5,509 articles were reviewed by title, 881 articles were retrieved for full text review, and 475 articles satisfied the inclusion criteria. Article content was assessed by identifying factors that facilitate or impede disclosure and classifying each article's primary goal of disclosure.
Results: Thirty-five factors believed to facilitate disclosure were identified (for example, accountability, honesty, restitution), as were 41 factors believed to impede it (for example, professional repercussions, legal liability, blame). The three most common goals of disclosure were to improve patient safety, enhance learning, and inform patients. Facilitating factors were more commonly cited when the goal of disclosure was to inform patients.
Discussion: A wide range of factors are capable of facilitating or impeding the disclosure of medical errors. Innovations to enhance error disclosure should address both sides of the equation: impeding factors should be removed and facilitating factors should be promoted.