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Curr Oncol Rep. 2010 Jul;12(4):253-60. doi: 10.1007/s11912-010-0109-0.

How to discuss errors and adverse events with cancer patients.

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WHO Office for Patient Safety, 79 Whitehall, London, UK.


Medical error has been increasingly recognized as a source of harm. The risk of harm can be even greater in cancer care with its potentially life-limiting disease and toxic treatments. When errors and adverse events occur, patients have a right to be informed and consistently report a desire to know about events in their care. Disclosure of errors is difficult for physicians for several reasons, including guilt and shame, the fear of litigation, concerns about the impact on the physician-patient relationship, and concerns about the impact on their personal reputation. Despite these difficulties, the experience of disclosure of medical error to date has shown that it can strengthen relationships, reduce litigation and the associated costs, and be beneficial to both the patient and physician. Disclosure can be approached in many of the same ways as any other difficult communication situations, with training and preparation helping to improve the process.

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