External mandates for medical error disclosure are often justified by potential cost savings, the belief in individual moral obligations in health care, and the concept that patients have rights and providers have responsibilities. Such an approach does not recognise the systems nature of error and outcomes and the important quality role disclosure can play in a system of medical error disclosure. Systems concepts, the patient-provider partnership, and overall quality of care can be enhanced using a system of disclosure that provides for education about the systems nature of error, fulfils the delivery system philosophy of mutual respect, and integrates the patient and his/her family as a partner in the error reduction enterprise. Such a system can result using clear disclosure policies and procedures sensitive to patient and family needs, open communications with concerned, committed, and compassionate system representatives, and use of mediation methods that foster communication, allow for venting, and are flexible in their approach to resolving conflict, including using apology. Although a system may also result in conflict resolution costs, more importantly it may foster and solidify a team approach to reducing errors and promoting patient safety.
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