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Disclosing Adverse Events to Patients

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Background: The rationale for, and recommended approaches to, disclosing adverse events to patients are examined on the basis of the experience of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The VHA's National Ethics Committee endorses a general policy requiring the routine disclosure of adverse events to patients and offers practical recommendations for implementation.

Practical Approaches to Disclosing Adverse Events: Disclosure is required when the adverse event (1) has a perceptible effect on the patient that was not discussed in advance as a known risk; (2) necessitates a change in the patient's care; (3) potentially poses an important risk to the patient's future health, even if that risk is extremely small; (4) involves providing a treatment or procedure without the patient's consent. From an ethical perspective, disclosure is required and should not be limited to cases in which the injury is obvious or severe. Disclosure of near misses is also discretionary but is advisable at times. In general, disclosure by a clinician involved in the patient's care is appropriate.

Conclusion: Although a variety of psychological and cultural factors may make clinicians and organizations reluctant to disclose adverse events to patients, the arguments favoring routine disclosure are compelling. Organizations should develop clear policies supporting disclosure and should create supportive environments that enable clinicians to meet their ethical obligations to disclose adverse events to patients and families.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

More about this publication?
  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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