Medical errors and uncertainty in primary healthcare: a comparative study of coping strategies among young and experienced GPs

Scand J Prim Health Care. 2014 Jun;32(2):84-9. doi: 10.3109/02813432.2014.929820. Epub 2014 Jun 10.


Objective: To study coping differences between young and experienced GPs in primary care who experience medical errors and uncertainty.

Design: Questionnaire-based survey (self-assessment) conducted in 2011.

Setting: Finnish primary practice offices in Southern Finland.

Subjects: Finnish GPs engaged in primary health care from two different respondent groups: young (working experience ≤ 5 years, n = 85) and experienced (working experience > 5 years, n = 80).

Main outcome measures: Outcome measures included experiences and attitudes expressed by the included participants towards medical errors and tolerance of uncertainty, their coping strategies, and factors that may influence (positively or negatively) sources of errors.

Results: In total, 165/244 GPs responded (response rate: 68%). Young GPs expressed significantly more often fear of committing a medical error (70.2% vs. 48.1%, p = 0.004) and admitted more often than experienced GPs that they had committed a medical error during the past year (83.5% vs. 68.8%, p = 0.026). Young GPs were less prone to apologize to a patient for an error (44.7% vs. 65.0%, p = 0.009) and found, more often than their more experienced colleagues, on-site consultations and electronic databases useful for avoiding mistakes.

Conclusion: Experienced GPs seem to better tolerate uncertainty and also seem to fear medical errors less than their young colleagues. Young and more experienced GPs use different coping strategies for dealing with medical errors.

Implications: When GPs become more experienced, they seem to get better at coping with medical errors. Means to support these skills should be studied in future research.

Keywords: Coping; Finland; GPs; general practice; medical error; primary care; uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Female
  • Finland
  • General Practice / statistics & numerical data*
  • General Practitioners / psychology*
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Medical Errors / psychology*
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uncertainty*