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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU: Surgeons Who Fully Disclose Adverse Events Fare Better

National guidelines recommend that surgeons and other health care providers fully disclose adverse events, which may include medical errors, to patients and their family members. But a new study in JAMA Surgery, led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher, reports that while surgeons at three Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals routinely disclosed such adverse events within 24 hours and expressed regret for what happened, only about half discussed the events in detail or apologized to patients. Just 55 percent of the surgeons reported discussing whether the event was preventable, while only one-third discussed steps for preventing further harm.

The study found that surgeons who were less likely to follow nationally recommended steps in disclosure, including discussing prevention, were more likely to be “negatively affected” by the experience. Also, those who perceived an adverse event to be extremely or very serious, and those who had difficult communication experiences with patients and families, were more likely to be negatively affected.

“Many of the surgeons in our study indicated that they had difficulty with some recommended elements of disclosure, including discussing the preventability of the event and efforts to prevent recurrences,” said Dr. A. Rani Elwy, lead author and an associate professor of health law, policy & management at BUSPH, who also is a researcher with the Center for Healthcare Organization and Implementation Research at Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and the Bedford VA.

“It’s important to know that not all surgeons are disclosing this information, even though patients have indicated they would prefer to know.”

To read more about the study, go to: