Evolving state law, professional societies, and national guidelines, including those of the American Medical Association and Joint Commission, recommend that patients receive transparent communication when a medical error occurs. Recommendations for error disclosure typically consist of an explanation that an error has occurred, delivery of an explicit apology, an explanation of the facts around the event, its medical ramifications and how care will be managed, and a description of how similar errors will be prevented in the future. Although error disclosure is widely endorsed in the medical and nursing literature, there is little discussion of the unique role that the physician assistant (PA) might play in these interactions. PAs are trained in the medical model and technically practice under the supervision of a physician. They are also commonly integrated into interprofessional health care teams in surgical and urgent care settings. PA practice is characterized by widely varying degrees of provider autonomy. How PAs should collaborate with physicians in sensitive error disclosure conversations with patients is unclear. With the number of practicing PAs growing rapidly in nearly all domains of medicine, their role in the error disclosure process warrants exploration. The authors call for educational societies and accrediting agencies to support policy to establish guidelines for PA disclosure of error. They encourage medical and PA researchers to explore and report best-practice disclosure roles for PAs. Finally, they recommend that PA educational programs implement trainings in disclosure skills, and hospitals and supervising physicians provide and support training for practicing PAs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas