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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2012 Oct 1;84(2):e131-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2012.03.010. Epub 2012 May 5.

How radiation oncologists would disclose errors: results of a survey of radiation oncologists and trainees.

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Department of Therapeutic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510-8040, USA.



To analyze error disclosure attitudes of radiation oncologists and to correlate error disclosure beliefs with survey-assessed disclosure behavior.


With institutional review board exemption, an anonymous online survey was devised. An email invitation was sent to radiation oncologists (American Society for Radiation Oncology [ASTRO] gold medal winners, program directors and chair persons of academic institutions, and former ASTRO lecturers) and residents. A disclosure score was calculated based on the number or full, partial, or no disclosure responses chosen to the vignette-based questions, and correlation was attempted with attitudes toward error disclosure.


The survey received 176 responses: 94.8% of respondents considered themselves more likely to disclose in the setting of a serious medical error; 72.7% of respondents did not feel it mattered who was responsible for the error in deciding to disclose, and 3.9% felt more likely to disclose if someone else was responsible; 38.0% of respondents felt that disclosure increased the likelihood of a lawsuit, and 32.4% felt disclosure decreased the likelihood of lawsuit; 71.6% of respondents felt near misses should not be disclosed; 51.7% thought that minor errors should not be disclosed; 64.7% viewed disclosure as an opportunity for forgiveness from the patient; and 44.6% considered the patient's level of confidence in them to be a factor in disclosure. For a scenario that could be considerable, a non-harmful error, 78.9% of respondents would not contact the family. Respondents with high disclosure scores were more likely to feel that disclosure was an opportunity for forgiveness (P=.003) and to have never seen major medical errors (P=.004).


The surveyed radiation oncologists chose to respond with full disclosure at a high rate, although ideal disclosure practices were not uniformly adhered to beyond the initial decision to disclose the occurrence of the error.

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