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What Can Apologies in the Electronic Health Record Tell Us About Health Care Quality, Processes, and Safety?

What Can Apologies in the Electronic Health Record Tell Us About Health Care Quality, Processes, and Safety?

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Matulis JC 3rd1, North F.

Author information: From the Division of Community Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

INTRODUCTION: Apologizing to patients is an encouraged practice, yet little is known about how and why providers apologize and what insights apologies could provide in improving quality and safety.

OBJECTIVE: The aim of the study was to determine whether provider apologies in the electronic health record could identify patient safety concerns and opportunities for improvement.

METHODS: After performing a free-text search, we randomly selected 100 clinical notes from 1685 available containing terminology related to apology. We categorized the reason for apology, presence and classification of medical error, level of patient harm, and practice improvement opportunities. We compared patient events discovered from apologies in the medical record to standard patient incident report logs.

RESULTS: Of 100 randomly selected apologies, 37 were related to a delay in care, 14 to misunderstanding, 11 to access to care, and 8 to information technology. For apologies related to delay, the median delay was 6 days (mean = 8.9, range = 0-41). Twenty-four (65%) of the 37 delays were related to diagnostic testing. Medical errors were associated with 46 (46%) of the 100 apologies. Sixty-four (64%) of the 100 apologies were associated with actionable opportunities for improvement. These opportunities were classified into 37 discrete issues across 8 broad categories. When apology review was compared with standard incident report logs, 27 (73%) of the 37 discrete issues identified by patient apology review were not found in incident reporting; both methods identified similar rates of patient harm.

CONCLUSIONS: Review of apologies in the electronic health record can identify patient safety concerns and improvement opportunities not apparent through standard incident reporting. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

DOI: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000514
PMID: 30110020