Apology laws and open disclosure

Stuart R McLennan and Robert D Truog
Med J Aust 2013; 198 (8): . || doi: 10.5694/mja12.11339
Published online: 20 May 2013

Laws protecting open disclosure conversations are unnecessary and a misguided strategy to encourage error disclosure

There has been a dramatic change in the approach to medical errors internationally, with a new ethic of transparency replacing the traditional customs of secrecy and denial. Australia has been at the forefront of this shift towards openness with Australian health ministers endorsing a national Open Disclosure Standard in 2003, which made it clear that there is an ethical responsibility to maintain honest communication with patients and their families even when things go wrong.1 However, while it is widely agreed that medical errors should be disclosed to patients, there is a large “disclosure gap” between expected practice and what is actually being done.2 Most research internationally suggests that a primary barrier to disclosure is health professionals’ fears regarding legal ramifications.3 Recent studies suggest that this is also the case in Australia.3,4

  • 1 Institute for Biomedical Ethics, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.
  • 2 Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, Mass, USA.


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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