Need Help?

(Toll Free)
Monday - Friday
8:30AM - 5:00PM ET

Alleviating the Emotional Impact of Harm with Open Communication

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Awareness of the emotional harm and healthcare aversion patients and families experience after medical errors is growing, but little is known about the characteristics, duration, and factors associated with such harm. 

2018 survey by Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety, studied 253 Massachusetts residents who either experienced medical error themselves or self-reported an error occurring to someone in their family offers new insights. Over 20% of individuals who reported a medical error that occurred 3-6 years ago, still feel sad, anxious, angry, betrayed or abandoned by healthcare and nearly a third say they are still avoiding medical care. Communication about the error mitigated these harms with patients who received consistent open communication. These patients also are less likely to report long-term emotional harm (e.g. anger, betrayal, anxiety). Respondents who report no communication are almost twice as likely to report avoiding medical care compared to respondents reporting open communication.  

Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Virtual Learning Hour  reviews data from the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety survey and the role open communication can play in mitigating under-recognized long-term emotional and psychological effects of errors on patients and families. Throughout this Virtual Learning Hour, panelists​​​ will provide real-life relevance to the data and provide tools on the best practices of Communication Resolution Programs (CRP) from both the patient and provider perspective.  


By the end of this Virtual​ Learning Hour​ you’ll be able to:

  • Identify long-term impact of medical error including emotional harm and healthcare aversion 
  • Assess the effect of open communication about the medical error on long-term risks
  • Review best practice for disclosure in communication and resolution programs​

This IHI Virtual Learning Hour has been approved for 1 Continuing Education Credit for physicians, nurses, and CPPS​​​​​ recertification.


    Prentice.jpgJulia Prentice, PhD,​ is the Director of Research at the Betsy Lehman Center. Her projects at the Betsy Lehman Center focus on measuring prevalence of adverse events, understanding public perception regarding the long-term impacts of medical error and the health system response, and evaluating the effectiveness of key quality improvement initiatives. Her previous work in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) focused on advancing healthcare systems to enact evidence-based policy and clinical practice. She found a relationship between longer appointment wait times for VA healthcare services and poorer patient-level satisfaction and health outcomes. In 2013, this work provided the evidence base for a change in access metrics used by the VA and helped address the access crisis in 2014. Her other research uses quasi-experimental analyses to identify causal relationships between treatment and outcomes in chronic diseases.​

    L.Kenney.jpgLinda Kenney is the Director of Peer Support Programs at the Betsy Lehman Center. As a result of a personal experience with a near fatal medical event 17 years ago, Linda identified the need for support services in cases of adverse medical events and outlined an agenda for change. Since that time, she has been encouraging organizations to tackle the challenges that impair effective communication, apology, and support programs for patients, families, and clinicians following medical errors and unanticipated outcomes. Linda serves on the board of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors and Collaborative for Accountability and Improvement. ​

    Bell 5.jpgSigall Bell, MD, is Director of Patient Safety and Discovery at OpenNotes and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A recipient of a Gold professorship, Dr. Bell’s research focuses on patient engagement, patient safety, and speaking up. As part of the OpenNotes team since its inception, she has contributed to the growth of patient access to their visit notes online to >40 million patients in every US state today. Together with her colleagues, she has trained over 1000 clinician leaders in medical error disclosure and has co-led development of a research agenda focused on preventing long-term emotional harm to patients and families. She is a health care innovator working to build safer care through health information transparency and stronger partnerships between patients and clinicians. ​


    Madge Kaplan Madge Kaplan, IHI’s Director of Communications, is responsible for developing new and innovative means for IHI to communicate the stories, leading examples of change, and policy implications emerging from the world of quality improvement ― both in the US and internationally. Prior to joining IHI in July 2004, Ms. Kaplan spent 20 years as a broadcast journalist for public radio – most recently working as a health correspondent for National Public Radio. Ms. Kaplan was the creator and Senior Editor of Marketplace Radio's Health Desk at WGBH in Boston, and was a 1989/99 Kaiser Media Fellow in Health. She has produced numerous documentaries, and her reporting has been recognized by American Women in Radio and Television, Pew Charitable Trusts, American Academy of Nursing and Massachusetts Broadcasters Association.