How should I talk to my doctor about medical error?

No one likes to admit that he has made a mistake. Talking to your doctor about medical error -- either general experience or in regards to your care -- can be tricky. It is important to be sensitive to how the question may be received. Pay careful attention to the wording of the question in order that the conversation will go smoothly. Think about how you would like to be confronted when asked about something you have done wrong. From the perspective of the doctor-patient relationship, it is valuable to discuss the issue prior to beginning a course of care.
Questions about errors in general:
  • Ask about errors your doctor may have made in the past.
  • Ask your doctor what it felt like.
  • Ask your doctor about the outcome.
  • Ask your doctor what he learned from it.
Questions about errors in your care:
  • Expect an honest apology and if you can, accept it.
  • Ask what happened. Try to dig deeper to get an understanding of what really went wrong and why.
  • Ask what the doctors, nurses, and hospital are doing to keep the error from happening again.
  • If you are able, ask to participate in the investigation of the incident and work with the team that develops solutions to keep it from happening again.
  • Seek support together. Medically Induced Trauma Support Services (MITSS), (found at is an organization founded to assist to heal the relationship between clinicians and patients who have experienced error together. MITSS also provides insights to the public to prevent similar errors from happening.

Continue Learning about Talking To Your Doctor

Is Your Hospital Treating You Right?
Is Your Hospital Treating You Right?
Hospitals across America are trying something new: Giving patients—and their loved ones—the red carpet treatment you’d expect from a fancy restaurant ...
Read More
Why doesn't my doctor talk to me about my weight problem?
Jill A. Grimes, MDJill A. Grimes, MD
There are many reasons why your doctor may be reluctant to talk to you about your weight, but he...
More Answers
What's the key to a good doctor-patient relationship?
Dr. Scott A. Wolf, DODr. Scott A. Wolf, DO
The key to a good doctor-patient relationship is for the patient to be involved, transparent, and co...
More Answers
How to Have a Better Doctor Checkup
How to Have a Better Doctor Checkup

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.