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The Patient Perspective on Errors in Cancer Care: Results of a Cross-Sectional Survey

Carey, Mariko*†; Boyes, Allison, W.*†; Bryant, Jamie*†; Turon, Heidi*†; Clinton-McHarg, Tara*†; Sanson-Fisher, Robert*†

doi: 10.1097/PTS.0000000000000368
Original Article: PDF Only

Objective The objective of this study was to explore medical oncology outpatients' perceived experiences of errors in their cancer care.

Methods A cross-sectional survey was conducted. English-speaking medical oncology outpatients aged 18 years or older were recruited from 9 Australian cancer treatment centers. Participants completed 2 paper-and-pencil questionnaires: an initial survey on demographic, disease and treatment characteristics upon recruitment; and a second survey on their experiences of errors in cancer care 1 month later.

Results A total of 1818 patients (80%) consented to participate, and of these, 1136 (62%) completed both surveys. One hundred forty-eight participants (13%) perceived that an error had been made in their care, of which one third (n = 46) reported that the error was associated with severe harm. Of those who perceived an error had been made, less than half reported that they had received an explanation for the error (n = 65, 45%) and only one third reported receiving an apology (n = 50, 35%) or being told that steps had been taken to prevent the error from reoccurring (n = 52, 36%). Patients with university or vocational level education (odds ratio [OR] = 1.6 [1.09–2.45], P = 0.0174) and those who received radiotherapy (OR = 1.72 [1.16–2.57]; P = 0.0076) or “other” treatments (OR = 3.23 [1.08–9.63]; P = 0.0356) were significantly more likely to report an error in care.

Conclusions There is significant scope to improve communication with patients and appropriate responses by the healthcare system after a perceived error in cancer care.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives License 4.0 (CCBY-NC-ND), where it is permissible to download and share the work provided it is properly cited. The work cannot be changed in any way or used commercially without permission from the journal.

From the *Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour, School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine, University of Newcastle, Callaghan; and †Hunter Medical Research Institute, New Lambton Heights, New South Wales, Australia.

Correspondence: Mariko Carey, D.Psych, Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour, School of Medicine and Public Health, Faculty of Health and Medicine, W4, HMRI Bldg, Callaghan NSW, 2308, Australia (e-mail:

This work was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant (ID 1010536), a Strategic Research Partnership Grant (CSR 11-02) from Cancer Council NSW to the Newcastle Cancer Control Collaborative (New-3C), and infrastructure funding from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). M.C. is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Translating Research into Practice Fellowship (APP1073031). J.B. is supported by an Australian Research Council Post-Doctoral Industry Fellowship. A.W.B. is supported by National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1073317) and Cancer Institute NSW (13/ECF/1-37) Early Career Fellowships.

The authors disclose no conflict of interest.

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