Disclosing medical errors to patients: effects of nonverbal involvement

Patient Educ Couns. 2014 Mar;94(3):310-3. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2013.11.007. Epub 2013 Nov 28.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to test causal effects of physicians' nonverbal involvement on medical error disclosure outcomes.

Methods: 216 hospital outpatients were randomly assigned to two experimental treatment groups. The first group watched a video vignette of a verbally effective and nonverbally involved error disclosure. The second group was exposed to a verbally effective but nonverbally uninvolved error disclosure. All patients responded to seven outcome measures.

Results: Patients in the nonverbally uninvolved error disclosure treatment group perceived the physician's apology as less sincere and remorseful compared to patients in the involved disclosure group. They also rated the implications of the error as more severe, were more likely to ascribe fault to the physician, and indicated a higher intent to change doctors after the disclosure.

Conclusion: The results of this study imply that nonverbal involvement during medical error disclosures facilitates more accurate patient understanding and assessment of the medical error and its consequences on their health and quality of life.

Practice implications: In the context of disclosing medical errors, nonverbal involvement increases the likelihood that physicians will be able to continue caring for their patient. Thus, providers are advised to consider adopting this communication skill into their medical practice.

Keywords: Disclosure skills; Doctor–patient relationships; Medical errors; Nonverbal communication.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Perception
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • Young Adult