Objectives: The objectives of this study were to describe otolaryngologists' emotional reactions to errors and adverse events, their efforts to take responsibility, and their attempts to implement improvements.
Study design and methods: A retrospective, anonymous survey of 2,500 U.S. otolaryngologists who were members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery about errors in their practice was conducted. Respondents were asked whether an error had occurred in their practice in the past 6 months and, if so, to describe the error, its consequences, and any corrective actions taken. Two aspects of these reports stood out, which were beyond the scope of the original study: the respondents' emotional responses and their corrective actions.
Results: The response rate was 18.6%. Two hundred ten (45%) respondents reported a total of 212 analyzable error reports and 230 corrective actions. Corrective actions included disclosure to the patient (20 [9%]), ameliorating the consequences of the event to the patient (107 [50%]), personal practice changes (14 [7%]), improvements in the respondent's practice or department (60 [28%]), and hospitalwide or broader corrective actions (19 [9%]). Emotional reactions to errors and adverse events were reported by 22 (10%) otolaryngologists, including regret, embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, loss of temper, and irritation. Legal action was mentioned by five physicians (2%).
Conclusions: Otolaryngologists took actions not only to treat their patients, but also to improve patient care in their practice, department, hospital, or community. Emotional reactions to errors and adverse events are common and need to be addressed in medical training and practice.