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Open Access Research article

Which medical error to disclose to patients and by whom? Public preference and perceptions of norm and current practice

Muhammad M Hammami*, Sahar Attalah and Mohammad Al Qadire

Author Affiliations

Centre for Clinical Studies and Empirical Ethics King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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BMC Medical Ethics 2010, 11:17  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-11-17

Published: 18 October 2010

Abstract

Background

Disclosure of near miss medical error (ME) and who should disclose ME to patients continue to be controversial. Further, available recommendations on disclosure of ME have emerged largely in Western culture; their suitability to Islamic/Arabic culture is not known.

Methods

We surveyed 902 individuals attending the outpatient's clinics of a tertiary care hospital in Saudi Arabia. Personal preference and perceptions of norm and current practice regarding which ME to be disclosed (5 options: don't disclose; disclose if associated with major, moderate, or minor harm; disclose near miss) and by whom (6 options: any employee, any physician, at-fault-physician, manager of at-fault-physician, medical director, or chief executive director) were explored.

Results

Mean (SD) age of respondents was 33.9 (10) year, 47% were males, 90% Saudis, 37% patients, 49% employed, and 61% with college or higher education. The percentage (95% confidence interval) of respondents who preferred to be informed of harmful ME, of near miss ME, or by at-fault physician were 60.0% (56.8 to 63.2), 35.5% (32.4 to 38.6), and 59.7% (56.5 to 63.0), respectively. Respectively, 68.2% (65.2 to 71.2) and 17.3% (14.7 to 19.8) believed that as currently practiced, harmful ME and near miss ME are disclosed, and 34.0% (30.7 to 37.4) that ME are disclosed by at-fault-physician. Distributions of perception of norm and preference were similar but significantly different from the distribution of perception of current practice (P < 0.001). In a forward stepwise regression analysis, older age, female gender, and being healthy predicted preference of disclosure of near miss ME, while younger age and male gender predicted preference of no-disclosure of ME. Female gender also predicted preferring disclosure by the at-fault-physician.

Conclusions

We conclude that: 1) there is a considerable diversity in preferences and perceptions of norm and current practice among respondents regarding which ME to be disclosed and by whom, 2) Distributions of preference and perception of norm were similar but significantly different from the distribution of perception of current practice, 3) most respondents preferred to be informed of ME and by at-fault physician, and 4) one third of respondents preferred to be informed of near-miss ME, with a higher percentage among females, older, and healthy individuals.