Open communication can help patients and families who experience harm

Women Communicating

Communication can help mitigate the sadness, betrayal and anger people feel after being harmed by medical errors. But too often, they have no opportunity to process what happened and carry the effects with them for years.

New research from the Betsy Lehman Center shows that effective communication can help mitigate emotional damage. For example, among a group of people who reported a medical error experience, 50 percent of those who received no communication following the event were still angry years later. Among those who were able to openly discuss it with the care team, only seven percent still felt angry.

Here are ways to improve communication with patients and families after an adverse event.

Best Practices for Communication, Apology and Resolution (CARe) Programs: Interfacing with Patients

Click here to see this list with extended comments on each item.

  1. Approach communication with patients mindfully, understanding that grief and healing is on a different timeline for each individual. 
  2. Prioritize patient-centered principles. 
  3. Train providers in patient-centered transparent communication skills.
  4. Communicate with patients and families about adverse events in a timely manner. 
  5. Listen to the patient. Allow for silences, and for the patient to be able to express how they feel.
  6. Ensure that the patient’s medical, emotional, and logistical needs are met as best as is possible. 
  7. Seek input from patients about their experience when an adverse event occurs. 
  8. Share the relevant findings of the investigation with the patient.
  9. Provide patients with resources to support them after adverse events.
  10. Approach resolution as a comprehensive process. 
  11. Encourage patients and/or their families to be represented by counsel during the resolution process. 
  12. Consider a variety of ways to engage patients in post-event learning.

This list was developed by the Massachusetts Alliance for Communication and Resolution following Medical Injury (MACRMI), a group of health care provider organizations, patient advocates and liability insurers. MACRMI developed, promotes and supports a program called CARe – Communication, Apology and Resolution. CARe is an alternative to malpractice litigation, providing patients and families with information, support and, when appropriate, an apology and fair financial compensation for medical injuries. To learn more, see MACRMI’s online library of free resources, including implementation guides; information tailored for attorneys, patients and families; sample policies and procedures; videos of MACRMI’s annual CARe Forum; and more.


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