Emotional Impact of Patient Safety Incidents on Family Physicians and Their Office Staff

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The objective of this study was to investigate the emotional responses and coping strategies that family physicians and their office staff reported in response to a patient safety incident.


Two questions contained in a patient safety incident report developed for a study of patient safety in family practice were analyzed. The questions asked reporters to indicate their emotional response to a patient safety incident and how they coped with it. A total of 264 confidential patient safety incident reports collected from September 2007 to August 2010 were analyzed.


An emotional response was reported on 82.4% of reports. Of those reports on which an emotional response was reported, a coping strategy was reported on 62.8%. The top 4 reported emotional responses were frustration (48.3%), embarrassment (31.5%), anger (12.6%), and guilt (10.1%). Physicians reported an emotional response more often than clinic staff. An emotional response was reported more often when there was a possibility of harm. Coping strategies were reported as follows: 52% talked to someone about the incident, 37.2% did nothing in response to the incident, 17.9% told the patient about the incident, and 3.6% did something else. Female physicians reported using coping strategies less often than male physicians. A coping strategy was reported more often when there was a possibility of harm.


All members of the health care team report experiencing emotions related to patient safety incidents in their practice. Incidents with minor or no harm still invoked emotional responses from the providers. It is important to understand the impact that patient safety incidents have on the medical clinic as a whole.

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