Medical errors: How much do you tell?

An occasional snapshot of current facts and trends in medicine.

Quick View. Posted Sept. 11, 2006

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Canadian physicians are only one-fifth as likely to get sued as American doctors are, but their attitudes about whether and how much to disclose to patients about a medical error are remarkably similar.

For example, 66% of U.S. surgeons surveyed said they had disclosed a medical error to a patient, compared with 65% of Canadian surgeons, according to Thomas H. Gallagher, MD, associate professor of medicine and medical history and ethics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

"These attitudes may stem much more strongly from the culture of medicine than from the external malpractice environment," said Dr. Gallagher, who led a team that surveyed 2,367 physicians in Canada and in Washington and Missouri -- two states classified as "in crisis" on the AMA's medical liability map.

Because of the similarities, other results from the survey are not broken out by nation. The findings suggest that while physicians are nearly unanimous in believing serious errors should be disclosed to patients, they disagree about how much should be disclosed.

Note: Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Source: "U.S. and Canadian Physicians' Attitudes and Experiences Regarding Disclosing Errors to Patients" and "Choosing Your Words Carefully," both in Archives of Internal Medicine, Aug. 14/28

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