Learning Through Experience: Influence of Formal and Informal Training on Medical Error Disclosure Skills in Residents

J Grad Med Educ. 2017 Feb;9(1):66-72. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-16-00263.1.


Background: Residents' attitudes toward error disclosure have improved over time. It is unclear whether this has been accompanied by improvements in disclosure skills.

Objective: To measure the disclosure skills of internal medicine (IM), paediatrics, and orthopaedic surgery residents, and to explore resident perceptions of formal versus informal training in preparing them for disclosure in real-world practice.

Methods: We assessed residents' error disclosure skills using a structured role play with a standardized patient in 2012-2013. We compared disclosure skills across programs using analysis of variance. We conducted a multiple linear regression, including data from a historical cohort of IM residents from 2005, to investigate the influence of predictor variables on performance: training program, cohort year, and prior disclosure training and experience. We conducted a qualitative descriptive analysis of data from semistructured interviews with residents to explore resident perceptions of formal versus informal disclosure training.

Results: In a comparison of disclosure skills for 49 residents, there was no difference in overall performance across specialties (4.1 to 4.4 of 5, P = .19). In regression analysis, only the current cohort was significantly associated with skill: current residents performed better than a historical cohort of 42 IM residents (P < .001). Qualitative analysis identified the importance of both formal (workshops, morbidity and mortality rounds) and informal (role modeling, debriefing) activities in preparation for disclosure in real-world practice.

Conclusions: Residents across specialties have similar skills in disclosure of errors. Residents identified role modeling and a strong local patient safety culture as key facilitators for disclosure.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical, Graduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / methods*
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Truth Disclosure*