I’m Sorry? A recent study shows that nurses are less likely to disclose medical error if they believe they may be sued or reprimanded

Many states are now passing laws commonly referred to as “apology legislation” which is designed to allow medical professionals to express empathy for, and take ownership of an unforeseen outcome without the risk of retaliatory litigation based solely on the statements made at the time of the apology. However, this is only part of the problem. Recent studies have shown the communication process and policies need to be improved for nurses to disclose errors. A study set for publication in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Nursing Care Quality reveals that almost one-third of respondents were less likely to disclose an error if they believed they might be sued or reprimanded. The reason given was that they thought efforts toward supporting and educating nurses who might report errors was inadequate.

This study implores healthcare facilities to look within and consider changes in their policies and procedures which encourages disclosure when an error occurs. Importantly, education and training should stress accountability when mistakes happen. The nurse must be taught at the outset that it is their professional responsibility to report their mistakes as well as mistakes of their colleagues. The institutions should strive to alleviate fear that an error will result in the immediate dismissal and focus on a case by case analysis which provides additional in-service training to ensure mistakes are not repeated. Indeed, the focus must be changed from a climate of blaming individuals for errors, but should be treated as opportunities to improve the system and patient safety.

Author: Michael P. Gould

* This study is scheduled for publication in January, 2012. A link to the site where the study will be available is: http://journals.lww.com/jncqjournal/Abstract/2011/10000/Registered_Nurses__Judgments_of_the_Classification.3.aspx

Posted in