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Med Educ. 2012 Jul;46(7):668-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2012.04269.x.

Changes in intern attitudes toward medical error and disclosure.

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Division of Medical Education, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.



The 2000 Institute of Medicine report, 'To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System', focused the medical community on medical error. This focus led to educational initiatives and legislation designed to minimise errors and increase their disclosure.


This study aimed to investigate whether increased general awareness about medical error has affected interns' attitudes toward medical error and disclosure by comparing responses to surveys of interns carried out at either end of the last decade.


Two cohorts of interns for the academic years 1999, 2000 and 2001 (n = 304) and 2008 and 2009 (n = 206) at a university hospital were presented with two hypothetical scenarios involving errors that resulted in, respectively, no permanent harm and an adverse outcome. The interns were questioned regarding their likely responses to error and disclosure.


We collected 510 surveys (100% response rate). For both scenarios, the percentage of interns who would be willing to fully disclose their mistakes increased substantially from 1999-2001 to 2008-2009 ('no permanent harm': 38% and 71%, respectively [p < 0.001]; 'adverse outcome': 29% and 55%, respectively [p < 0.001]). About two thirds of fully disclosing interns in both scenarios believed 'the patient's right to full information' to be the primary reason for their disclosure. Fear of litigation in response to error disclosure decreased (70% and 52%, respectively), the percentage of interns who felt that 'medical mistakes are preventable if doctors know enough' decreased (49% and 31%, respectively), belief that competent doctors keep emotions and uncertainties to themselves decreased (51% and 14%, respectively), and agreement with leaving medicine if one (as an intern) caused harm or death decreased (50% and 3%, respectively). Prior training about medical mistakes increased more than four-fold between the cohorts.


This comparison of intern responses to a survey administered at either end of the last decade reveals that there may have been some important changes in interns' intended disclosure practices and attitudes toward medical error.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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