Background: The release of the report 'To err is human' put medical safety and the disclosure of errors to the forefront of the health care agenda. Disclosure of medical errors by physicians is vital in this process. We studied the role of background and social psychological factors in internists' willingness to report medical errors.
Methods: Survey among a random sample of internists from five teaching hospitals in the Netherlands, all internists and internists in training at the Departments of Internal Medicine of the participating hospitals.
Results: Questionnaires were received from 115 participants (response 51%). The willingness to disclose was related to the severity of the error, with the majority of near misses not reported to the head of department or the hospital error committees. Errors were more often reported to colleagues. Positive factors in favour of disclosing were reported more often than negative ones prohibiting disclosure. Motivation, behavioural control and social barriers were related to the disclosure of errors.
Conclusion: Personal and social issues contributing to the will and addressed properly to stimulate disclosure. The creation of an atmosphere where disclosing errors is routine seems vital. In addition, it is essential to create a departmental culture where medical errors are discussed in a non-judgmental, safe environment. In order to improve reporting of medical errors, more emphasis should be placed on the individual barriers that preclude adequate reporting.