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Qual Saf Health Care. 2004 Apr;13(2):130-5.

Re-thinking accountability: trust versus confidence in medical practice.

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National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


In seeking to prevent a reoccurrence of scandals such as that involving cardiac surgery in Bristol, the UK government has adopted a model of regulation that uses rules and surveillance as a way of both improving the quality of care delivered and increasing confidence in healthcare institutions. However, this approach may actually act to reduce confidence and trust while also reducing the moral motivation of practitioners. Accountability in health care is discussed, and it is suggested that openness about the difficult dilemmas that arise when practitioners have a duty to be accountable to more than one audience may be an alternative means of restoring trust. A greater emphasis on the sharing of information between individual health professionals and their patients would increase trust and would allow patients to hold their doctors to account for the quality of care they receive. Concentrating more on developing trust by the sharing of information and less on the futile search for complete confidence in systems and rules may improve the quality of care delivered while also nurturing the moral motivation of professionals upon which the delivery of high quality health care depends.

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