Should Medical Errors Be Disclosed to Pediatric Patients? Pediatricians' Attitudes Toward Error Disclosure

  • Irini N. Kolaitis
    Address correspondence to Irini N. Kolaitis, MD, Division of Hospital Based Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 225 E Chicago Ave, Box 152, Chicago, IL 60611-2605.
    Division of Hospital Based Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Ill
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  • Dana Aronson Schinasi
    Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Ill
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  • Lainie Friedman Ross
    Department of Pediatrics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill

    MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill
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Published:August 29, 2015DOI:



      Limited data exist on medical error disclosure in pediatrics. We sought to assess physicians' attitudes toward error disclosure to parents and pediatric patients.


      An anonymous survey was distributed to 1200 members of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Surveys included 1 of 4 possible cases that only varied by patient age (16 or 9 years old) and by whether the medical error resulted in reversible or irreversible harm. Statistical analyses included chi-square, Bonferroni-adjusted P values, Fisher's exact test, Wilcoxon signed rank test, and logistic regressions including key demographic factors, patient age, and error reversibility.


      The response rate was 40% (474 of 1186). Overall, 98% of respondents believed it was very important to disclose medical errors to parents versus 57% to pediatric patients (P < .0001). Respondents believed that medical errors could be disclosed to developmentally appropriate pediatric patients at a mean age of 12.15 years old (SD 3.33), but not below a mean age of 10.25 years old (SD 3.55). Most respondents (72%) believed that physicians and parents should jointly decide whether to disclose to pediatric patients. When disclosing to pediatric patients, 88% of respondents believed that physicians should disclose with the parents present. Logistic regressions found only patient age (odds ratio 18.65, 95% confidence interval 9.20–37.8) and error reversibility (odds ratio 2.90, 95% confidence interval 1.73–4.86) to affect attitudes toward disclosure to pediatric patients. Respondent sex, year of medical school graduation, and area of practice had no effect on disclosure attitudes.


      Most respondents endorse disclosing medical errors to parents and older pediatric patients, particularly when irreversible harm occurs.


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