Research / / Dr. Stuart Roger Mc Lennan

The law as a barrier to error disclosure: A misguided focus

Abstract: At the core of the patient safety movement is the open communication about medical errors. It is seen as important that errors are reported so that opportunities for system improvements can be identified and addressed, and disclosing errors to harmed patients is now seen as an ethical, professional and legal duty. There remains, however, a large ‘gap’ between expected communication practice and what is actually being done. Legal fears are consistently identified as one of the most important barriers to error communication. Efforts to improve medical error communication are ongoing and there is a need to reflect on where the focus of these efforts should be moving forward. It is argued that the focus on the law as a barrier to medical error communication is misguided and efforts should instead be focused on addressing issues around the culture of individual hospitals and departments, and the training and support of clinicians.