Patient Perceptions of Mistakes in Ambulatory Care

Patients with higher levels of educational attainment, chronic back pain and reports of poor physical health are more likely to perceive mistakes in their ambulatory care. Patient perceptions of mistakes often lead them to seek different physicians.

The authors aimed to learn about perceptions of medical mistakes in ambulatory care in a diverse population. They surveyed 1,697 participants recruited from seven primary care medical practices from geographically representative regions in North Carolina. Participants filled out surveys, in English or Spanish on: perceptions of medical mistakes in treatment and/or diagnosis; perceived harm from mistakes and whether they changed physicians as a result; demographic; and medical history information. A random sample of patients was also selected for interview.

Key Findings:

  • Patients with higher levels of educational attainment, chronic back pain and report of poor physical health were more likely to perceive mistakes.
  • Of the 15.6 percent of participants who perceived mistakes in their ambulatory care; 14.1 percent reported changing physicians as a result.
  • White patients were more likely to perceive mistakes than African-American or Hispanic patients.

Knowing which patients are likely to perceive mistakes may help physicians set expectations for care. However, all patients surveyed had a primary care physician, so these findings may not apply to patients without primary care.

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