Objective: The aim of the study was to determine from patient-reported data the relationships between patients' experiences of adverse events (AEs), the disclosure of the events, and patients propensity for complaints or legal action.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was administered to 20,000 participants randomly chosen from the 45 and Up Study. The surveyed participants were older than 45 years and hospitalized in New South Wales, Australia, between January and June 2014. They were identified using data linkage to capture experiences of AEs.
Results: Of the 7661 respondents, 474 participants (7%) reported experiencing an AE. Those who did not receive an apology or expression of regret in the incident disclosure process were significantly more likely to make a complaint (P < 0.05). Those who found out about the event from hospital staff but did not receive a formal open disclosure process were found to be significantly more likely to seek legal advice (P < 0.05). Patients who made a complaint generally perceived that they experienced more problems in their hospital care, with significant differences identified between those who did and did not make a complaint on 13 of the 15-item Picker Patient Experience Questionnaire.
Conclusions: Although incident disclosure was not associated with whether a complaint was made or legal action pursued, significant associations between key aspects of the disclosure process and these outcomes were noted. Significant differences between those who did and did not make a complaint were noted in relation to the timing and apology components of open disclosure. The critical role of overall patient experience in the context of optimal AE management was evident from these data.