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Chamberlain CJ, Koniaris LG, Wu AW, Pawlik TM. Disclosure of “Nonharmful” Medical Errors and Other Events: Duty to Disclose. Arch Surg. 2012;147(3):282–286. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.1005
Author Affiliations: Department of Surgery, School of Medicine (Ms Chamberlain and Drs Wu and Pawlik), and Department of Health Policy and Management, Bloomberg School of Public Health (Dr Wu), The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; and Department of Surgery, Thomas Jefferson University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Dr Koniaris).
An estimated 98 000 patients die in the United States each year because of medical errors. One million or more total medical errors are estimated to occur annually, which is far greater than the actual number of reported “harmful” mistakes. Although it is generally agreed that harmful errors must be disclosed to patients, when the error is deemed to have not resulted in a harmful event, physicians are less inclined to disclose it. Little has been written about the handling of near misses or “nonharmful” errors, and the issues related to disclosure of such events have rarely been discussed in medicine, although they are routinely addressed within the aviation industry. Herein, we elucidate the arguments for reporting nonharmful medical errors to patients and to reporting systems. A definition of what constitutes harm is explored, as well as the ethical issues underpinning disclosure of nonharmful errors. In addition, systematic institutional implications of reporting nonharmful errors are highlighted. Full disclosure of nonharmful errors is advocated, and recommendations on how to discuss errors with patients are provided. An argument that full error disclosure may improve future patient care is also outlined.
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