By Zhai Yun Tan
Kaiser Health News
Dr. Thomas Gallagher has been through many tough conversations with patients. He remembers once standing in front of a patient and the patient’s family, preparing to tell them about a mistake that had occurred.
“This is a topic I think about all the time and it was still very nerve-racking and embarrassing,” said Gallagher, an internist and a professor at the University of Washington’s medical school specializing in quality and patient safety issues.
The patient had been sent to another clinic an hour away to get an MRI, but because of a miscommunication, the MRI was done in the wrong area of the body and would have to be repeated.
“The patient was disgusted,” Gallagher recalled about the event that occurred before he came to Washington. “His family was furious … that after all the patient had gone through to get this test … we still couldn’t even figure out something this basic.”
Medical mistakes often happen. National guidelines call for doctors to provide full disclosure about adverse events, and studies have shown that those discussions benefit patients. But new research finds that the act of disclosure, combined with stress from the procedure gone wrong, can be an anxious experience for some doctors — and more training is needed to help them engage in these difficult conversations.