Skills of internal medicine residents in disclosing medical errors: a study using standardized patients

Acad Med. 2009 Dec;84(12):1803-8. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181bf9fef.


Purpose: To determine internal medicine (IM) residents' ability to disclose a medical error using standardized patients (SPs) and to survey residents' experiences of disclosure.

Method: In 2005, 42 second-year IM residents at the University of Toronto participated in the study. Each resident disclosed one medical error (insulin overdose) to an SP. The SP and a physician observer scored performance using a rating scale (1 = not performed, 2 = performed somewhat, and 3 = performed well) that measures error disclosure on five specific component skills and that provides an overall assessment score (scored on a five-point scale, 5 = high). Residents also completed a questionnaire.

Results: The mean scores on the five components were explanation of medical facts (2.60), honesty (2.31), empathy (2.47), future error prevention (1.99), and general communication skills (2.47). The residents' mean overall disclosure score was 3.53. Although 27 of 42 residents (64%) reported previous experience in disclosing an error to a patient during their training, only 7 (27%) of these residents reported receiving any feedback about their performance. Of 41 residents, 21 (51%) had received some prior training in disclosure, and 38 (93%) thought additional training would be useful and relevant.

Conclusions: Disclosing medical error is now a standard practice. Experience with medical error begins early in training, and preparing trainees to discuss these errors is essential. Areas exist for improvement in residents' disclosure abilities, particularly regarding the prevention of future errors. Curricula to increase residents' skills and comfort in disclosure need to be implemented. Most residents would welcome further training.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Ontario
  • Patient Simulation
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Truth Disclosure*